YouTube, Demonetization, & Censorship…Oh My?

I watch a lot of YouTube. In fact, it’s my primary source of entertainment—I rarely watch TV anymore. And like those YouTube users who do not have YouTube Red, I come across a lot of ads.

These ads are from advertisers who have decided, “Hey, this content creator is getting a lot of engagement and has a big, committed audience that just happens to be my target audience. I can advertise with them and we will both benefit.” So, they pay the content creator to run their ads before videos. The content creator receives an income and the advertiser gets screen time. It’s a win-win for everyone. Right?

It’s not quite that simple.

In the past few weeks, YouTube content creators that depend on revenue from monetized videos have received notifications from YouTube that certain videos will no longer be eligible for monetization by advertisers and that many current videos had their monetization removed. Often with no explanation.

Understandably, these notifications have caused a firestorm in the YouTube community. Creators claim that YouTube taking away their livelihood by censoring their content. So what exactly is going on here? Has YouTube crossed a line or are the creators overreacting? I’m here to set some things straight.

YouTube Is Not the Best Communicator

Before we dive into the specifics of this battle, understand that YouTube and content creators have always been somewhat at odds with each other. Historically, YouTube has often made policies or site changes that negatively affect its content creators.

For example, their algorithm routinely has problems flagging and removing content that is legal under the Fair Use doctrine of the Copyright Act and creators have difficulty contacting YouTube to get their content unblocked or their channel reactivated.

Couple the lack of communication with YouTube removing monetization from videos and you can see why content creators are becoming disgruntled with the platform. With over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and only 1000 to 5000 YouTube employees, it’s difficult for the platform to manually review every video flagged for accuracy. YouTube, and by extension content creators, could benefit from hiring more employees to review flagged content and communicate with content creators. In doing so, they will better promote their customer service and relationship with content creators,

YouTube’s Monetization Policy Isn’t New

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty. In the past, YouTube content creators have had monetization removed from videos. They just weren’t being told about it and it was difficult to know if a video had been demonetized. Despite what some content creators and users believe, YouTube has always had a policy that determines what kind of content is “advertiser-friendly”. Their algorithm looks at a video’s content and meta-data to determine if it is advertiser-friendly. So when a video isn’t considered advertiser-friendly YouTube flags it as such, removing it from the pool of videos advertisers can run their ads on.

Recently however, YouTube strengthened their monetization policy to “improve [transparency and] the notification and appeal process to ensure better communication,” according to a statement given to Business Insider. More videos are being flagged, making the drop in creators’ revenue much more apparent.

While the change has been frustrating for content creators, the change was also made in order to help catch and remove content that relates to or promotes terrorism. As the Internet Creators Guild explains, and as evidenced above, these changes are necessary, but are not without its problems.

What Videos Are Under Threat?

According to YouTube, content that isn’t advertiser-friendly is:

  • Sexually explicit
  • Depicting extreme violence or serious injury
  • Promoting drugs
  • Using inappropriate language that harasses or is vulgar

The Grey Area

YouTube also considers content that is “controversial or sensitive” to be grounds for demonetization—namely, war, natural disasters, or political conflicts, which can be difficult for channels that make a living discussing these topics. Thankfully, YouTube does have exceptions to these rules. If the content “[is inappropriate and the context] is usually newsworthy or comedic and the creator’s intent is to inform or entertain (not offend or shock),” the video can still be monetized.

Exceptions like these are important for encouraging quality content, but they can still be problematic. Like the popular YouTube creator Casey Neistat explains, these terms are loose and subjective. What is explicit, newsworthy, or comedic to one audience may not be to another. In fact, The Know, a sister network of Rooster Teeth, has noted that some of their affiliated content creators have had videos that contained no offensive content demonetized without explanation. With no way to gauge if the content you’re creating will be flagged, creators can easily waste valuable time and resources making good content only for YouTube to remove it or deem it unworthy of monetization.

Is the Demonetization Policy Censorship?

Some YouTube content creators decry this policy as censorship, and technically they are correct—but it’s not the Fahrenheit 451 censorship that first comes to mind. As a private business, YouTube has the right to demonetize or remove videos that are against its policies, like videos that are sexually explicit.

Why censor? Advertisers don’t want to be affiliated with content or views they don’t agree with, which happens all the time in the real world. For example, advertisers removed their sponsorships from swimmer Ryan Lochte after the 2016 Rio Olympics when he lied about being robbed at gunpoint. They found his behavior to be unacceptable and in violation of their morals clause, allowing them to break their sponsorship. In this case, it was censorship in that as their representative, Lochte was responsible for acting in a certain way in accordance to their policies. When he didn’t, they broke ties with him to show that his behavior wasn’t representative of their company and views.

Despite the Kinks, Don’t Shy Away from YouTube

While YouTube had good intentions for changing their algorithm, a combination of lack of communication, broad blanket terms, and a lack of reporting accuracy can make content creators, both current and future, nervous about creating original, dynamic content. However, you shouldn’t let these changes steer you away from YouTube as a platform to share your brand’s content.

YouTube is still a great resource for creating and publishing your brand’s content when you understand why and how its monetization policy works. Working within the limits of YouTube’s policies doesn’t mean you’re doomed to create only dry, unoriginal content that doesn’t provoke thought or emotion. Content creators can create truly thought-provoking, fun, and edgy content without fear that their creation won’t be eligible for monetization. It may take some trial and error, but in the end, the results are worth it.

If you’re still iffy about creating content on YouTube or simply want another platform to share your content on, there are other video sharing sites you can use:

Update December 1, 2017: YouTube’s demonetization woes continue.

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