So here’s the thing: I love YouTube. It may not always be the most logical website (far from it, actually), but the amount of content created by users who truly put their entire heart and soul into their efforts is a really inspiring thing. While many people will use the site simply to watch cat videos or the latest trending thing someone may have shared on Facebook, the real meat of YouTube lies in actually fully-realized shows that live outside the boundaries of FCC-mandated censorship and are generally created out of pure love for the community and the medium. News, gaming, film reviews, original independent web series and movies, comedy sketches, animation, vlogging – it’s a near-endless world of possibilities! Create what you want, when you want, how you want. Total freedom.
At least, that’s how it started…
YouTube has always had problems. In the early days, they struggled with streaming demands and implementing high-quality video. Now they struggle with their growing image in the public eye, attracting legal battles and criticism. But one huge problem with which YouTube has perpetually struggled is their community and organization. Now the community itself can be very loving and beneficial – the site’s format definitely lends itself more toward creator-audience interaction than any form of traditional media. Sadly, the problem isn’t with the vast majority of people who watch and enjoy the videos, but rather with those who don’t enjoy what they see. Given the more anonymous nature of viewer’s identities on YouTube, we see an intense flood of negativity and downright cruelty expressed in comments on a regular basis. Death threats, racism, sexism, extreme Social Justice Warrior bullshit, and just flat-out mean comments are actually expected by creators on the platform at this point.
Now, in the olden days, anyone on YouTube would see this and say “yeah, that seems about right…good thing I have so many fans who actually love what I do and support my efforts” and move on. All that may be changing with the site’s new “YouTube Heroes” program. A system designed to improve the user-experience on YouTube, Heroes is essentially a rewards system for users who add subtitles to videos, contribute to user help forums, and flag inappropriate videos. Any user can join to help make a positive change on the platform. This program doesn’t seem inherently scary by itself – all these actions have been available before, just without the points/rewards system. The most concerning part is actually one of the rewards: mass flagging. This means once a YouTube Hero (don’t you just want to vomit every time you hear that phrase? What a horrible name!) racks up enough points, they could potentially pick out a channel he/she doesn’t like – say a rather divisive one like LeafyIsHere, iDubbbz, or even a news channel that covers stories they find to be uncomfortable like Philip DeFranco or The Young Turks – and just flag all their videos in the name of “saving YouTube.” These channels have undoubtedly had videos flagged before. Such videos will likely become age-restricted, meaning you must log in to YouTube and be of the appropriate age to view them. So, again, even with mass-flagging this seems more like an inconvenience than anything dire.
But wait, there’s more!
YouTube Heroes could very well prove fatal to some of YouTube’s biggest channels and personalities due to another shitstorm that swept over the site only a scant few weeks ago: demonetization. For those who don’t know, YouTube creators do indeed earn a paycheck from YouTube. It depends on how many subscribers they have, how long their videos are, how frequently they upload, and a multitude of other factors – we could go on for hours about how strange their payment algorithm is and why it favors gamers and vloggers over animators and comedy sketches. The most important part of all this is no matter how much a creator is paid, that money comes from advertisements displayed before or during the video (or I guess YouTube Red subscriptions as well, but no one really knows how that works because YouTube loves to not explain anything). Well, naturally, YouTube has decided to remove advertisements from videos deemed “not advertiser-friendly,” meaning if you say or discuss something YouTube’s algorithms deem too controversial they will remove ads – and thus your source of income – from your video. Now, funny enough, this all came to light after YouTube made a positive change: they added an appeal process for this demonetization policy so creators could have a strong chance at regaining their revenue stream. The scary part is they were demonetizing videos for at least a few years in secret with creators discovering videos long in their past have been making no money only after the powers at bay deemed it was time for appeals to be a thing. Apparently, YouTube just loves to do shit and not inform anyone what’s happening – a recurring theme even from their earliest days.
Ok, so the real danger lies in the combination of demonetization and YouTube Heroes. Flagging a video is a great way to make a video seem advertiser-unfriendly. Thus, there is an inherent danger of mass-flaggings destroying a channel’s main revenue source and killing their future on the platform. This seems a bit like a country realizing they can’t effectively moderate all businesses in their jurisdiction, so they hand guns and ammo to their citizens to “keep the peace” and reward them with bigger guns and more ammo. Just imagine if something like that happened in the United States. For every company there is at least one person who disapproves – I guarantee there’s even some asshole out there who thinks the Make A Wish Foundation doesn’t deserve to exist. But now the government hands guns to anyone who wants one and says “Make America Great Again.” Mass chaos. That’s all that would come of it.
Part of what has made YouTube an enduring staple of internet culture is its very nature of being an unfiltered platform. For years their slogan has been “Broadcast Yourself,” though I’d be surprised if they kept using that now. Mass censorship appears to be a very real threat for the website in the coming months, and that is something I find truly disgusting. Yes, there are stupid racist and sexist videos and comments – yes, there are obnoxious social justice warrior rants. But here’s the thing: everyone deserves a chance to express their opinion! Even if I hate your stance on something, I will fight to the death for your right to express it. This new system takes that power away from YouTube personalities. Suddenly someone with an unpopular opinion is at risk of being marginalized and treated unfairly. Just imagine how this could effect a controversial topic like Black/Cop Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter creators could be destroyed by Cop Lives Matter supporters, while Cop Lives Matter creators could be destroyed by Black Lives Matter supporters – and no one learns anything because even discussion about the subject is now soft-banned by a community offended by viewpoints other than their own. Frankly, it’s just too much power to put into the hands of the same people who feel the need to incessantly try to post “FIRST!!!” on every single major upload on the site. This is a system that will foster even more bigotry on YouTube and perhaps even turn it into another version of…*shudders*…Tumblr.
Finally, I have to acknowledge that while I wholeheartedly disagree with YouTube’s decisions, they should and do still have the right to make these kinds of changes. What’s really driving this to “crisis”-type levels for many creators is that there still is no true competition for YouTube on the internet. They are really the only large-scale, easily-accessible video site of that type. Blip – perhaps the most promising alternative at one point – is now dead, Newgrounds was never catering to the mainstream even in its heyday, and Vimeo has a reputation for snootiness. Other video sites are much more niche with Channel Awesome dedicated to mostly geeky review-based content, Screw Attack dealing with games and trying to stay relevant, and Rooster Teeth doing…um…whatever the hell it is that Rooster Teeth does to garner such a rabid fanbase. Perhaps YouTube has become drunk on its own power and stature. Honestly, now might be the best time for a major competitor to rise with the promise of more freedom or better communication with their creators. Either way, we really can do nothing but wait and see how this effects YouTube, and hope for the best.
Tell us what you think about YouTube’s changes in the comments below! For more information, check out a video on the topic by h3h3 Productions here:
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