The fact that YouTube is one of the most massive websites shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. According to YouTube’s statistics, it has over a billion users, almost one third of all people online. YouTube accumulates hundreds of millions of hours of views every single day. And that’s the beauty of one of the most revolutionary forces in content creation in the past decade.
The advantages are clear to see: YouTube provides a content creator with essentially free distribution. Anyone can upload a video accessible to anyone else with an internet connection. Content creators can also monetize their videos, allowing them to reap the rewards of adverts placed before, during and after their content is playing. A person with a camera, time and dedication can now make a living, simply via this monetization of their YouTube videos.
Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, also known as PewDiePie, is the pinnacle of successful examples, earning $15 million in 2016 alone. How? By finding an audience entertained by simply watching him playing video games and vlogging, amongst other things. But Kjellberg found himself in a swirl of controversy in the past few months, accused of exhibiting anti-Semitism in a number of his parody videos. He had a major television show cancelled due to the media backlash, and the whole ordeal brought renewed focus on YouTube’s approach behind selecting what it deems as “advertiser friendly” (in other words, monetized) content.
Due to the countless number of videos being uploaded every day, it’s impossible to watch and vet every single one. YouTube relies on keywords and algorithms and user flagging to do much of the heavy lifting on this front. But YouTube’s approach has arguably done more harm than good. For example, completely harmless videos are often demonetized due to a potentially controversial word in their title, such as “Christianity.” Parody, satire and political videos are particularly vulnerable to this approach, seeing as they tend to cover touchy subjects even if they aren’t controversial themselves.
This has shed a light on a big problem YouTube has: how to properly manage what content is being played along with an advertiser’s commercial, without destroying the livelihoods of its content creators.
But what are the risks that YouTube and its content creators now face?
1. Creating only to appeal to advertisers
By giving advertisers the power to select what kinds of videos their commercials appear in, this means that content creators will be incentivized to make videos that play it safe and guarantee they won’t displease anyone. It’s a compromise many will find hard to make.
2. Workaround approaches work both ways
There are methods of avoiding getting flagged and circumventing YouTube’s system, for example, by removing potentially inflammatory keywords from the title and tags of a video. But this is an approach everyone will soon figure out, including those with legitimately offensive content.
3. The death of freedom of speech
This is a centuries old problem: how to make a living as a creator without censoring yourself? YouTube has a responsibility to not allow content creators to be silenced unfairly, even if the expense is exorbitant and unwieldy. Otherwise, true freedom of speech and expression on its website will quickly die.