It looks like YouTube, one of the last places where people with unpopular opinions can still count on uncensored speech will likely be going the way of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is an entirely lost cause, and the advent of Twitter’s ‘Trust and Safety’ Council, which included multiple social justice groups and not one organisation dedicated to the protection of free speech was pretty much the nail in the coffin there. Now YouTube has decided to do something similar, but craftily enough to dodge accusations of outright censorship; they have found a way to demonetise videos pretty much as they see fit.
There’s been a fair bit of drama over this on YouTube, and the #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag was born. Here’s content creator Philip DeFranco talking about some of the problems with this and how YouTube responded when he queried the demonetisation of some of his material:
The following section has been added to YouTube’s community guidelines regarding content that could result in a video being marked as ‘considered inappropriate for advertising’:
Content that is considered “not advertiser-friendly” includes, but is not limited to:
- Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humor
- Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism
- Inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language
- Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items
- Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown
That final bullet essentially gives YouTube the right to demonetise anything that isn’t a cat video. It is way to broad to be universally enforced but so open to interpretation that any content remotely connected to current news events can be demonetised at whim.
This is not just a problem for those critical of the modern social justice Left. Left leaning channels like The Young Turks have also had many videos demonetised – most of which probably happens currently via a bot screening for keywords. There’s also no way that YouTube will go after all creators of current affairs content – they keep around half the ad revenue for themselves and of course they are not going to penalise themselves in that way.
What they may very well do is decide to target users with opinions they don’t like and deprive many of them of their income. This is a seriously untransparent process; will users have a way to tell whether their video was picked up by a bot or put on the naughty pile because someone at YouTube just didn’t like it? Probably not.
There’s a vibrant community of counter cultural YouTubers who are vitally important to a demographic of viewers who are just not being served by the mainstream media right now. Those who want to shut down spaces where alternative narratives can be voiced understand this, would dearly love to get people like Sargon of Akkad and Karen Straughn (who has recently seen a significant drop in her ad revenue) off YouTube. It may not happen tomorrow, but the door is now wide open for YouTube to hurt them financially. Of course, YouTube is free to do this, and if the work of these creators is truly valued their viewers will find ways to remunerate them for their work. But these guidelines are another barrier to a level playing field because they are so open to abuse.
It has already been suggested that those with Libertarian or Conservative opinions should move en masse to another platform. Minds.com has been suggested, as it provides blogging, microblooging and video facilities and its founder Bill Ottman is very committed to free speech. I for one think this would be a massive win those who want to control what can and cannot be said online. But given how sweeping and ridiculous these new YouTube advertising guidelines actually are it’s likely that even those who consider themselves part of the quest for a progressive paradise will find themselves being increasingly silenced and in need of a new platform. But it would be much better if internet platforms got out of the business of making value judgements about content altogether.