YouTube ‘Heroes’ Initiative Offers Incentives for Content Policing, But at What Cost?

Is YouTube’s newest attempt to enforce ‘Community Guidelines’ a step too far?

Last week saw an announcement of the launch of “Community”, YouTube’s new social media platform for viewers to further connect to their favorite content producers. This new platform, still in its beta-stage, will allow viewers to access whatever GIFS, photos, or live videos their favorite personalities decide to post. It seems as though it will function as the merchandise table at the back of a concert, offering mementos and paraphernalia to permeate as much of one’s life as they can.

This week, YouTube made an announcement that viewers will also be able to integrate themselves into the YouTube experience. YouTube’s new initiative, called “YouTube Heroes”, will offer incentives to those who, “flag inappropriate content, add captions and subtitles to videos, and share their knowledge with other users on the YouTube Help forum.”

Participant’s (who must express interest, and are not guaranteed admittance to the initiative) can work through five different levels, depending on the value they provide. Reaching higher levels is incentivized with offers like the chance to try new products, and even possibly attending YouTube’s “Hero’s Summit” (apparently, a physical party/conference for the best-of-the-best of the digital vigilantes).

Someone who regularly uses YouTube, however, may view this new initiative with suspicion. Of the three enumerated duties for these new “Heroes”, flagging inappropriate content, seems to be the issue which has caused YouTube the most trouble in the past. Since its rise to prominence, YouTube has battled copyright infringement, and the arguments in its comment section have become notorious for their vitriol and crass nature. While additional help forums and subtitles may become more widely available, the biggest change that is likely to come from this initiative is a more aggressive campaign against content which violate’s the site’s Community Guidelines.

This initiative may become the newest divisive issue in the realm of informational freedom. Both Twitter and Facebook have come under public pressure in recent years for suppressing certain trending sentiments or subjects. While this may have limited Twitter from becoming a continual stream of Justin Bieber fan-tweets, other adjustment’s that seem to impugn the concept of user-control have proved to be major PR issues for these digital behemoths.

Perhaps users will embrace a YouTube free from abrasive comments or offensive videos that cannot be avoided from appearing in search results. But, YouTube also risks backlash as its Community Guideline’s enforcement become more aggressive.

Up until this point, it seems that users have begrudgingly understood the constraints YouTube must face publicly for allowing copyrighted or offensive on its site. Users understood that content police are doing their job, and that for the most part, the content will appear eventually, but the site must at least appear to enforce its guidelines.

But by enlisting users to police one another, not out of personal taste or frustration, but instead, doing so in return for site-sponsored rewards, the site is clear in its intention to clean up the community. If the internet’s sense of tribalism and libertarian leanings is as strong as they once were, it does not seem far fetched to imagine YouTube turning into a a platform clouded in an “us vs. them” mentality.

It may not be long before YouTube “Heroes” are referred to as “snitches” and “narcs” in comment sections. That is, until the content is flagged.