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YouTube began its demise years ago if you listen to creators. Over at The Verge, Julia Alexander has given her take on the matter. 

When looking for certainty in our uncertain world, look no further than a barrage of “YouTube is over” within hours of a policy change going into effect on the platform.

The recent changes to the platform’s harassment policy is a case in point. Launched last week, YouTube has announced they “no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” Basically, you can say what you want about the content put out by a creator, but criticism can’t actually be based on an attack on the person. The justification for the changes, according to YouTube is that bullying “makes people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other.”

Coming of Age

This isn’t the first time that people who still post on YouTube have had to realign their approach to their work. Those who are the mainstay of the platform might be feeling that YouTube is flexing their power against them, with more traditional content getting prioritized. However, the changes have been necessary and are helping the platform keep pace with competition and society at large.

Now 14 years old YouTube is at the awkward phase and have a growth spurt. With teenhood comes newfound responsibilities for what accounts are putting out there. YouTube has been getting away with some stuff on the fringes because no one was really looking – misdemeanors like letting controversial creators monetize their output and hosting prank content like the Bird Box challenge that encouraged dangerous behavior – but now they don’t really have a place to hide. The growing pains at the tech giant and the changes that have come with it have been getting keenly felt by those it relies upon; the creators.

As a backdrop to the new policies on harassment, the conservative Steven Crowder has stood accused by Vox’s Carlos Maza of using homophobic slurs against him and harassing him in content. Although the site’s execs at first said the comments didn’t actually go against any particular policy, they later went on to announce there would be updated policies regarding creator-on-creator harassment. Now, if there is evidence of “a pattern of repeated behavior across multiple videos or comments” YouTube can take action even if each video individually doesn’t merit a violation.

Policy Problems

As well-intentioned as the expanded harassment policy is, there are big concerns from creators from drama channels and commentators who tend to focus on the behavior of other YouTubers. Their videos are normally about the actions of others on the platform, and some claim to be of purely comedic value, but they could easily be interpreted as bullying by many and also by the new policy. 

“Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from YouTube’s Partner Program, eliminating their ability to make money on YouTube,” states the new rules, with a further stipulation that no one video has to cross a line; as long as there are repeated attacks this could constitute harassment.

Profits have been derived from the rants that have been tossed between users, lining the pockets of YouTube and the creators. There was even a nod to such spats in the 2017 Rewind video, with a clip of Jake and Logan Paul squaring off to each other whilst others watched on, waiting. These types of videos were perfectly fine in the past, so they were made, and watched, and a community was built around them. For the record, diss tracks have been given the go-ahead, despite the policy, since they’re classed as artistic impression, but this is going to be monitored. 

Policy in Action

As the first shot across the bow, YouTube has already removed a comedy/commentary post from a very popular YouTuber. The controversial comedian Ian “iDubbbz” Carter had started his “Content Cop” series as a way to highlight the negative actions of others on the platform. His targets have included Brian “RiceGum” Le and his over-the-top clickbait posting and the cyberbullying behavior of Calvin “Leafy” Veil. The video Carter posted on Veil contained teasing of his personal appearance and behavior, and was duly removed for going against the new policy, yet the community were less than impressed since Carter was attempting to call out unacceptable behavior himself.

“The only thing keeping other YouTubers in check is other YouTubers,” Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg said in a recent video. “We have this anarchy system; don’t come and ruin it for us, YouTube. The rule is if you do dumb shit on YouTube, you will get called out on it. We need that — it’s the only thing keeping us sane.”

Creators are worried about the uncertainty that comes with new changes, and recent concerns are another symptom of that, with them trying to navigate a way to protect their livelihoods. There have been numerous changes in policy and subtle adjustments to algorithms in recent years, making creators scramble to understand how they can still make money from YouTube. Non-gamer creators tried to elbow their way into the Minecraft craze because that’s where the advertising revenues were; everyone became a vlogger with daily uploads in attempts to appease the algorithm gods; attempts were made to go family-friendly in the eye of the YouTube overlords. No tactic was left untried. 

Demonetization

A schism appeared between the company and the personalities on the platform following periods of demonetization; much needed after the attention that fell on Kjellberg and Logan Paul and their content. There is now a sense of ever-impending doom at the thought of the next “adpocalypse”. You can delve back into 2017 and 2018 to see videos proselytizing about the end of YouTube for scores of reasons, but at base, it’s all about the money.

These are turbulent times indeed for those making their living on YouTube, and 2020 isn’t going to be any easier, it seems. In the pipeline are new Federal Trade Commission guidelines, that come hot on the heels of £160million fine for YouTube for Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations, causing potential issues in monetizing family-friendly videos. Until relatively recently, revenue hunters had believed that safety had lain in family-friendly content. It seemed that the content was more likely to get ad-approval and land in front of viewers as edgier content was getting swerved, and this was proved right, for a time. 

Striking a Balance

There are creators that have been on the platform for pushing a decade, and they are getting well-used to playing the ever-changing balancing game. Every change from YouTube hits their bottom line. It’s possible to track cultural changes progress online, nowadays; jokes that were circulating Twitter circa 2008 wouldn’t gain traction in 2019, as has been evidenced. The backlash over any changes on YouTube is somewhat understandable when they can make or break the careers of creators. 

“It seems like a lot of YouTube’s updates where the intention is good — I don’t think people should get attacked for their sexual identity — but it’s always like, ‘This is what we want to strike down’ and then it’s like all these other consequences are the result of it,” Kjellberg said. “It’s like COPPA wasn’t enough; there’s no kids content on YouTube and there’s no edgy content on YouTube.”

From a broad perspective, these changes actually need enforcing by YouTube. There are 500 hours of content hitting the site every minute, this isn’t going to slow down. There is indeed a duty to protect those using YouTube, making sure there isn’t harassment and bullying going on in any corner. When doing this, there does also need to be some recognition that their creators have been pushed from pillar to post over the years and trust has broken down. The growing pains are causing sore times for everyone, but they are important to get through together.

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