YouTube’s de-monetisation isn’t censorship, but it could transform the site

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If you were born a few years after me, you probably watch a lot of YouTube. And if you watch a lot of YouTube, you may have seen an interesting controversy brewing last week: something about YouTube’s so-called of de-monetising videos that advertisers would feel uncomfortable with?

That summary doesn’t tell the whole story, and isn’t strictly accurate. As this excellent summary of events from the Internet Creators Guild explains, YouTube has been stripping ad-revenue from questionable videos since 2012. The only difference between then and today is that YouTube now gives notice, and offers the ability to appeal the decision for human review if the algorithms mess things up.

Or as the company explained in a forum post, “we did not change our policy of demonetising videos that may not be appropriate for Google’s brand advertisers. Nor have we changed how these policies are enforced.” The guidelines for these are pretty clear, and you can probably guess the kind of thing that isn’t considered acceptable. Imagine the kind of thing you wouldn’t want your product alongside (sex, drugs, violence, that kind of thing) and you’re getting warm.

This won’t affect the majority of us, but there is a small subset of people who make an awful lot of their money from YouTube videos. For sake of shorthand, I’ll refer to them “YouTube celebrities”, but do be aware that the phrase makes me feel queasy, too. Anyway, when these YouTube celebrities started getting emails last week identifying specific videos that had been de-monetised, and marked as “non-advertiser friendly,” it was a direct threat to income. And no doubt it appeared like a sudden change of policy, given it backdated five years’ worth of video notices in a splurge of finger-wagging emails.

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Now, while there have been plenty of examples of videos being dubiously flagged, and even a successful appeal will lead to lost revenue (12-24 hours, at the moment), crucially this is not the same as YouTube deleting videos. The videos still remain online and searchable, you just won’t see an ad roll before watching. In fact, the Internet Creators Guild’s graphs suggest that even flagged videos can benefit from a little YouTube Red subscription revenue.

So it’s not censorship, and it’s not a sudden development. All that YouTube has done is offer a little more transparency and an appeals process, no matter what the chilling-effect brigade will tell you.

Ironically, this could well mean that YouTube viewers have to deal with censorship in the future, but it’s not from Google. If a YouTube celebrity decides to modify their behaviour to ensure they get paid, then they are indeed engaging in censorship, but the buck stops with them. They just have to decide whether their pure, unadulterated message is more important than their bank balance when payday comes.

Image: Rego Korosi, used under Creative Commons

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