Around 6 months ago, YouTube content creators were filled with outrage after the guidelines for YouTube’s new demonetization policy was released. Essentially, YouTube made it so that any video including sexually offensive, violent, or drug-related content would be demonetized. This meant that advertisements could no longer be played on those videos, thus preventing the content creators from receiving any sort of advertising revenue. YouTube did this to give advertisers the confidence that their products weren’t being promoted on videos with “suggestive content”. It doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple.
For many YouTubers, the outrage started when their videos started randomly becoming demonetized. Dr. Aaron Carroll has a healthcare channel that is a prime example of the phenomenon. Dr. Carroll’s creates family-friendly content about about healthcare policy and research, but 27 of his videos were demonetized after the new YouTube algorithm flagged them for containing suggestive content. The algorithm mistakenly flagged Dr. Carroll’s videos that contained content about prescription drug costs, the opioid epidemic, and treatments for diabetes, because it thought that those videos were praising illegal drugs. This is most likely because the videos contained the names of the drugs in the video titles and video tags. Dr. Carroll is only one out of the hundreds of YouTubers who have had the same thing happen to them.
YouTube has since created an appeals process for getting demonetized videos remonetized. However, any amount of time that a video spends demonetized causes a substantial drop in revenue for the content creator. Ironically, initial reports suggest that most claims submitted for manual review have resulted in the video being remonetized, which indicates a critical error in the current monetization algorithm.
The necessity of submitting an appeal for every video you create could be a massively discouraging factor for many YouTube content creators. To make matters worse, the YouTube guidelines for preventing demonetization are incredibly broad and vague, giving YouTube the ultimate authority to decide whether your video is deemed appropriate to advertise upon. One of the guidelines states that content containing “controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies…” can be demonetized at any point. This has many YouTube creators saying that this is essentially an act of censorship. While you can still say whatever you want on YouTube, you may not be able to make your living off it anymore.
This could just be YouTube making way for paid YouTube channels. Paid YouTube channels are a new addition to YouTube, that will allow content creators to charge a small fee for being able to watch their videos a little bit early, and generally support the content they make. While this is a good thing for creators, it’s still a band-aid solution to the problem at hand. Paid channels still don’t provide nearly as much revenue as can be attained by hosting advertisements on your videos.
Despite all of these changes, YouTube creators continue to make content. Many of them have started paying special attention to the metadata and tags included in their videos, so that they may not get accidentally flagged. Even though this works most of the time for the big YouTubers out there, this method is still not enough for others. YouTubers that make politically charged content have to deal with the inevitability of people of opposing views disliking their videos. However, if enough people go so far as to flag the video it will get demonetized, causing the creator to lose money just because enough people had a different viewpoint than their own. This is bad no matter what political stance you may take.
YouTube’s appeals process is a good start for preventing the erroneous demonetization of videos, but even more needs to be done by YouTube in order for them to continue to succeed as the world’s largest video streaming platform.