If you’re a reasonably normal person and you go on YouTube and follow large YouTubers, you probably remember that one week during the late summer where almost everyone was freaking out about YouTube’s sudden announcement that videos that are not “advertiser-friendly” would not be able to generate ad revenue. Twitter exploded with angry tweet under the hashtag #YoutubeIsOverParty (which had over 170,000 tweets in the first day the hashtag was created). Your subscription box was probably flooded with videos of angry people ranting about how frustrated they were over this issue. Everything was just an angry mess.
To begin, why is everyone so upset? For many YouTubers, YouTube is their only job. Some have even quit their actual jobs or dropped out of college to devote all their time to their YouTube career, like Ryan Higa from Nigahiga, who did the latter. While everyone may say that they love making new content for their viewers, ultimately (for some YouTubers, at least) money is the end goal; YouTube pays the bills and puts food on their table. This money comes from either sponsorships or ad revenue. In a sponsorship, a creator is paid by a company to promote a product, and ad revenue is from a company paying to have their ads displayed before or during a video. And so, one can see a huge problem in YouTube’s announcement about having non-advertiser friendly content being demonetized; while YouTubers are free to be sponsored by whomever, if a video is deemed not advertiser-friendly, that video won’t be able to generate any ad revenue- which can lead to a loss of $500-$5000 per 1 million views. Combining that with the fact that YouTube success is a pretty difficult thing to achieve (only 0.33% of videos reach the 1 million view mark) and requires hours of hard work, the loss of monetization on even a few videos is quite devastating.
To add to the controversy about this change, Ethan Klein from h3h3productions discovered that these changes aren’t even recent; for years before, YouTube has been demonetizing videos. They’ve just never been telling creators until recently. YouTubers could see that some numbers weren’t adding up, that a video was making less than it should have been, but they were never told the cause. YouTube only decided now to tell people as part of their new transparency policy that was supposed to benefit the creators and make their YouTube experience easier; it’s just one blunder after another with YouTube, eh?
But this is something easy to avoid, right? Just make videos that are “advertiser-friendly”, and boom, you can keep making money, right? Well, it’s not that easy. YouTube’s definition of non-advertiser-friendly includes: “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”. Just the “inappropriate language” part affects almost everyone. I mean, just imagine a video by Pewdiepie, GradeAUnderA, h3h3productions, FilthyFrank and countless others WITHOUT any swearing; everything was replaced by either a very annoying high-pitched beep or “gosh darn it!” Their vulgar language has just become a distinctive feature of their channel. It’s part of who they are as a YouTuber, and changing that is just not okay with them or their fans. Some other topics seem like common sense like “no sexually suggestive content, violence, or drugs”, until you realize how many seemingly normal jokes fall under those categories. Imagine a YouTube with no innuendos or edgy, controversial jokes. That’s just not YouTube anymore.
YouTuber Philip DeFranco has even accused the site of censorship. As he has pointed out, if one’s channel is revolved around discussing “controversial or sensitive subject and events” demonetization would make their channel “unsustainable”. As a creator that has become successful by reporting on real life news and controversy, his channel is threatened by these changes. In addition, some videos that cover controversial topics in an educational or even positive way have been affected. YouTuber boogie2988 has made videos on suicide and they have also been demonetized for being too “controversial”. He tweeted on September 1st, “Don’t try to save lives on youtube if you plan for it to be part of your business model, kids.” Videos explaining current wars and politics may also end up getting affected, even if the info is presented in an unbiased, educational manner.
On the other hand, creators like Freddie Wong from WongFuProductions disagree with going so far as to call YouTube’s actions censorship.“[In] what bizarre world is the act of not paying somebody for content they are freely allowed to create, upload, and share on your platform considered censorship? This is not censorship. This is not some ‘form’ of censorship” Wong stated in an editorial. In other words, while advertisers might not want to support a channel monetarily anymore, the channel is not being shut down, the viewers are not prohibited from listening to controversial opinions, and the creators are not being silenced. Compared to the Soviet Union under Stalin or China during Mao Zedong’s regime, YouTube has an incredible degree of freedom of speech. So, a YouTube chock-full of innuendos and edgy jokes can still exist- just not as a money-making venue.
In addition, many people justify the recent changes as a reasonable business decision. GradeAUnderA pointed out that advertisers are “not obliged to have to advertise on anyone’s videos” and that “if the advertisers aren’t happy with the deal that they’re getting on YouTube… they will leave.” He also declared, “It makes perfect sense for certain companies to not want to associate with certain types of videos.” For example, videos that were demonetized often had tags like “rape” or “ISIS”. With no idea of what the video’s actual stance of the topic, if you were a head of a respectable business, would you want to advertise on, and thus become associated with, a video that discussed such questionable topics? Probably not, if you want to keep your company’s reputation clean. The only way to keep your job as a YouTuber, then, is to keep the advertisers happy. As I mentioned above, it’ll be an odd and uncomfortable change to get rid of vulgar language, but when it comes to controversial topics, it’s as easy as not tagging your videos with said topics.
This situation has undoubtedly kicked up many debates and new questions. For example, is this the beginning of the downfall of YouTube as a creative and dynamic platform? Will YouTube one day become a restrictive and monotonous industry, where innovation is hindered by rules and the creators’ own desire to make cash quickly? Should the messy affair of business even become entangled with a website that was designed to allow common people to freely express themselves for entertainment purposes? Perhaps the future for YouTube isn’t as apocalyptic as some would make it seem, but we can only know for sure with time.