Shady Business

How Youtube’s latest changes have affected and upset its top content creators

By Sheila J Sadr Copy Editor

Graphic by Sam Orihuela and Nathan Zankich

How much do you know about Youtube? Sure, it’s the virtual hub of all things Buzzfeed and your favorite silly cat videos. It’s the epicenter of all the other viral videos that find their way onto your newsfeed. Some of Youtube content has even been made the subject of news headlines.

You’d never expect it, but Youtube has also revolutionized countless industries. It reenergized our worn out, Barbie doll make-up industry with a whole genre of Youtube channels that upload DIY, professional-looking tutorials and reviews of products, propelling millions of people who just learned about the latest trend of highlighter or setting sprays to stores. It gave the music industry the update it needed, artists finally starting careers just by clicking “upload.”

There are dozens more: the book industry starting with John Green, the gaming industry with the devoted efforts of Youtubers like PewDiePie and Markiplier, the dance industry with filmmaker Tim Milgram filming dancers and choreographers working routines in studios, and even the world of journalism has found a place on Youtube with news channels like Philip DeFranco and The Young Turks — just to name a few.

Some genres arguably would never have come to fruition if not for Youtube. Think of all the creative vloggers (video bloggers), the educational Crash Course videos that cover a variety of school subjects, the LGBTQIA+ community members whose coming out stories empowered a generation of non-heteronormative kids, and all the independent documentary news channels that would have never found its way to us without this place.

It’s safe to assume that our generation would be completely different if it wasn’t for Youtube.

So why are so many creators on the platform worried right now? Why don’t a lot of people know that Youtube is planning a major change and that some of our favorite Youtubers will suffer greatly because of it?

Youtube, as a company, was the first of its kind. A video platform birthed from the internet, this site never planned on becoming a business. But with currently 1 billion unique visitors a month and no intent on stopping, Youtube is in fact a business. And it intends to grow, to become even more competitive with other forms of media, it’s not afraid to break down some of its creators in the process.

It needs to be said now; Youtube is making moves to compete against the big TV companies. That is it. That is what they’re doing. It has become obvious, blatant, and brutal to the vast majority of their creators. And here’s why.

Ignoring the obvious signs like the launch of Youtube Red and the more recent Youtube TV back in April, there are three main indicators of Youtube’s plan: the demonetization of videos on various channels, the “random” unsubscription glitch, and the recently discovered issues with Youtube’s “Restricted Mode.”

It’s understandable if you find all of this information dry as a saltine cracker. But this is important.This impacts the livelihoods of many individuals and it will very likely affect your experience on Youtube as well.

So with that, let’s start with demonetization.

It begins with the Youtube Partner Program, a contract developed in 2007 between Youtube and any Youtube creator to automatically pair advertisements to their videos. This process is called monetizing. The advertising brands are able to get their name out, Youtube takes a cut of those ads and so does the creator. Everyone wins. YouTube does a great job of helping large brand and small businesses create worthwhile relationships with customers. They drive sales through the use of video. But consistently creating compelling content can be a challenge.

Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie on Youtube, was dropped from the Youtube Partner Program after several of his videos were criticized for being anti-semitic.

A Youtube creator has to have a proven loyal following, an understanding of the importance of an active social media presence, and, what has become clear now to many creators, easily marketable content.

That’s where the trouble starts. This final point is more important than you think. Beginning September 2016, Youtubers started to notice that their videos were being demonetized, meaning that they no longer had an ad that would appear before the video.

Initially reported by Youtuber Philip DeFranco in a video titled “YouTube Is Shutting Down My Channel and I’m Not Sure What To Do,” DeFranco explains that over a dozen of his videos had been flagged as inappropriate for advertising, including one that was dinged for “graphic content or excessive strong language.” This initiative to tighten monetization guidelines was to help Youtube appear more advertiser friendly, financially discouraging creators to make content that was unique and original to them.

While saying that YouTube was operating within their rights, DeFranco described the system as “censorship with a different name.” He clarified that “if you do this on the regular, and you have no advertising, it’s not sustainable.”

Then again in March 2017, a larger wave of demonetization hit other channels. Youtube creator Ethan Klein from the H3H3Productions Youtube channel wrote, “YouTube has demonetized everything from ‘Vape Nation’ to ‘Thank You for 3 million’ with no notification and no option to appeal.”

Youtube star Jenna Marbles also caught a “bizarre selection” of her own videos being demonetized. Youtubers Scarce, idubbzTV along with plenty of others noted the same issue. Everyone’s biggest concern was why they weren’t notified or sometimes why they couldn’t appeal the demonetizing. This lack of communication and disregard encourages a culture of distrust and anxiety among Youtubers toward their company.

See, when a video is demonetized, the creator makes no money off of it. Youtube is often their full time job and this disincentivizes them to create content that they actually want to create. It’s inherently a form of censorship that financially endorses creators to make content that is described only vaguely as “advertiser-friendly.”

It’s like when a company doesn’t want to be associated with a celebrity due to their political opinions, their sexual orientation, or, most often, their “newsworthy” scandals, they pull out of endorsing them and consequently that celebrity loses a huge source of their income.

This is not the case with creators on Youtube. Advertisers don’t speak directly to the creators; they speak to Youtube the company. When Youtube sees advertisers divesting from their company, they create an algorithm that enforces ambiguous provisions and terms that channels in their Partner Program must adhere to. And the most insulting aspect is that they don’t inform their creators that they’ve made changes. So when all these Youtubers spoke out about being demonetized, Youtube let it slip that this process has been occurring for over two years without notifying their “employees,” rendering potential income for these individuals completely unknown and unaccounted for. It’s insulting.

Youtubers Jenna Marbles and Phillip DeFranco have been vocal about their experiences with Youtube.

The second slight happened back in December 2016 when users reported in masses that they had been unsubscribed from some of their favorite channels. Big Youtubers were losing as many as 100,000 subscribers in minutes. A couple of them revealed that their subscriber count had gone into the negatives.

YouTubers have been noting critical fluctuations in their subscriber counts. Youtubers like PewDiePie, JackSepticEye, h3h3Productions, DramaAlert, Boogie2988 and hundreds of smaller channels posted videos relaying fans’ complaints. The core of the glitch was whenever someone unsubscribed from a channel, YouTube would falsely detract two subscribers from the account which essentially gave trolls the opportunity to repeatedly subscribe and unsubscribe from channels, causing massive drops in the total subscription count.

YouTube Help published a video countering widespread claims by stating that there was no glitch and that “YouTube doesn’t unsubscribe people from channels.”

This caused massive outrage since a glitch of this sort doesn’t just simply pop up out of nowhere. They are developed in internet code that is made by human beings. The action is intentional and many Youtubers noticed that.

“It felt like they were caught. It felt like they messed up. It felt like they were doing something that they thought they wouldn’t get caught for and got caught,” said notable Youtuber Julien Solomita on an episode called “ Podcast #134 — YouTube Restricted Mode” of the Jenna Julien podcast.

This not only adds to the increasing mistrust that Youtubers have towards Youtube but it is also a product of duplicitous motive, which leads straight into the third offense: the Restricted Mode.

YouTube’s Restricted Mode is an optional mode meant to prevent mature video content, like the use of profanity and topics that discuss sex, violence, drugs and alcohol, from being seen by younger users or any other user who doesn’t want to see it. Videos that feature, or sometimes even touch upon, this type of content is filtered in the Restricted Mode.

Earlier this month, Youtube again caught itself tangled in other snafu when Youtubers caught the Restricted Mode option blocking videos with LGBTQIA+ themes, deeming gay wedding vows and people’s coming out stories as “mature content.”

According to Youtube, this was simply a mistake.

But again this blanket algorithm makes mistakes and cannot distinguish what may be appropriate for young audiences and what is not. And again, we are unsure how long this has been going for and how much income was stolen from predominantly LGBTQIA+ creators.

And it was not only people in the LGBTQIA+ community that were being filtered out. Whole channels uninvolved with the LGBTQIA+ community also disappeared. From the likes of Philip DeFranco to Jenna Marbles, the Restricted Mode’s algorithm randomly removed countless videos.

Again, not communicating with their content creators about their new additions.

And this is the biggest issue. Why not tell your “employees” the changes you’re making? Unless you don’t want them to know or you have something to hide. All of the suspicious actions done by Youtube seem to be a means to bring more advertisers and constrict its content into family-friendlier material.

The unsubscribing glitch along with the increased demonetization and unrestrained Restricted Mode is further evidence of this.

In the same Jenna Julien podcast, Jenna Marbles said, “The unsub glitch was essentially if you’re 14 years old and you go on Youtube and you make an account and you subscribe to a channel that they were deeming as mature, it would automatically unsubscribe you from that channel. Because it is above your age so they are essentially taking television ratings…”

“And enacting them for the users,” Julien responded.

It’s simple fact at this point: Youtube prioritizes money over its creators. All that’s been said here is just a brief, simplified abridged version of all the changes Youtube has made and the indifference they show to their creators, people who simply want their employer to be transparent with them and have their back. But no, the demonetization is to force Youtubers to create what Youtube deems to be ad-friendlier content. The unsubscription “glitch” was a failed attempt to strip content creators of their audience and discourage them from creating material that isn’t as marketable. The Restricted Mode was to compartmentalize channels into different age groups so that Youtube would seem more like a TV service or cable network that consumers are more familiar with.

It’s important to remind yourself that Youtube doesn’t give a shit about you or its creators. It cares about your money. It cares about big brand names’ money. It cares about becoming a much bigger media monopoly than it is today.

Youtube is really not getting this one key concept. What they don’t know, what they underestimate, is the power of their creators. If their bigger content creators leave, even if just a handful that leave in the beginning to another platform, then they become nothing. They have nothing. It is the Youtuber that makes Youtube, not the other way around. The user will follow their favorite creators, not stay on a platform that pushed them out. What they don’t realize is that the user has always cared more about the creator than Youtube and all their money ever will.

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