Aaron Harburg

YouTube Censorship

In February 2005 YouTube launched as a video sharing service that completely changed the game. Google noticed and bought them less than two years later. YouTube filled a void. First, free video streaming service. Videos require a ton of bandwidth and if you try to pay for that on your own it gets very very expensive. Second, it became a single site to discover new videos. Turns out that two decades after the proliferation of the internet, we like our web browsing to mimic our retail shopping behavior: a one-stop shop rather than a bunch of small stores. Third, much later into it’s post-Google acquisition, it gave small video producers the capacity to make money through advertising.

It seemed like a win-win-win! The advertising revenue turns out to be fairly small and not always the most effective for advertisers. But Adwords does provide a massive amount of data for advertisers and content creators can get money for displaying those data-collecting ads. I myself have made about $100 over the last three years from a much neglected channel.

Making money requires huge amounts of views to truly be sustainable (hence only $100 for 60,000+ views). That is in large part why many channels and vloggers rely on crowd-sourcing, such as Patreon, merchandising, or sponsorships. I swear Audible probably pays the salaries of all my favorite YouTubes. Nevertheless, ads are a significant portion of a content-creators revenue. This is where things get a bit disturbing.

Recently, YouTube has changed or at least started enforcing their so-called “monetization policy.” Often covertly. Basically, any video they deem “vulgar” or “controversial” will lose monetization rights. It’s not censorship and even if it was, YouTube is perfectly within their rights as a private service provider to censor whatever they like. It’s America (err the world) and you can post your video somewhere else if you’d like. HOWEVER, it does in effect result in a form of censorship.

Variety a few years back lamented that the democratization of mass media through platforms like YouTube resulted in artistic sewage becoming popular. I tend to agree with them, however, I see that is part of the cost for truly democratic media production. I still believe that while the vast amount of content is produced is garbage, there are enough good quality productions to justify that deluge of intellectual refuse. Furthermore, even if the production values are bad, it does bring about an element of accountability that is much needed in an age where shrinking revenues are pushing the press to become more sensational.

There are a LOT of difficult conversations that need to be had. I try to listen to multiple view points through my YouTube subscriptions. I like to hear what the far-right and far-left are saying. We should all piece together a more comprehensive view of reality from the diverse vantage points. With these new policies, YouTube is effectively making it much more difficult for these viewpoints to be heard. That is scary. It also isn’t clear what criteria they used to determine what is or is not offensive.

A body-cam video of a police officer using excessive force on a person of color, a coming out video discussing traumatic experiences, an expose on domestic violence, a video of an abortion. All of these become less-sustainable ventures. That means the raw, uncensored and wild messy life we all live is no longer something that YouTube believes should be economically rewarded. Sure, people have been using these inappropriately to monetize sensationalism. The fact is, those most guilty of that run these things called television networks. For once everyday people were given a voice and an incentive to share their stories. Now, YouTube wants to ensure their advertisers can stick to the beige fake reality many YouTube creators have been seeking to escape.

I sincerely hope there is a backlash. If there are any brilliant entrepreneurs out there, now is the time to introduce an alternative platform to YouTube. I can pretty much promise in the coming months the search trend “YouTube alternative” will be very popular. Otherwise, it will become status quo. Once again an example of multi-national corporations allowing economic interests to trump the common good.