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Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Current YouTube Debacle

YouTube is kind of a big thing for me. I'm a cord-cutter, and have been for a long time now: when I got my first solo apartment, I looked into cable prices and realized that a basic package was just far too much more than I was willing to spend for what I'd get and what I'd get out of it. It was at that point that I started looking into alternatives, and began the arduous task of downloading episodes of television shows over a dial-up connection.

To you millenials, this may sound shocking. You think the internet is your ally. I was born in dial-up. I didn't see high-speed, always-on connections until I was a man. (Obligatory Bane reference complete.)

I like YouTube because it provides a platform for a lot of voices, and a way for those voices to monetize their content so that they can continue to provide content as long as people keep patronizing, keep clicking, and keep viewing. It allows me to watch music, entertainment, and news from sources that are not approved by one of the few major satellite or cable content providers. Without it, I'd be stuck with Syfy or CNN, The Home Shopping Network or FOX News. Instead, I can listen to arguments from all sides of an issue, from rational to emotional to paranoid.

Recently, several prominent and many more obscure content creators have been hit with automated notices that their content has been demonetized. In other words, they haven't been silenced; they haven't been removed; they're just not making money anymore when people watch their content. Ostensibly, this is due to YouTube's concern over advertisers, as the pre-scripted message provided to the video producers indicates.
The Rules. So, really, nothing is monetizable anymore. 
The first major case was 10+ year veteran vlogger Philip DeFranco, whose video regarding the woman who claimed she was harassed by a Lyft driver revealed that she was being abusive and harassing because he had a bobble-headed hula doll (the kind they practically issue you when you step off the plane in "the continent of Hawaii", to use her wording) on his dashboard. 

There was a knee-jerk reaction, as his video did include the acronym "SJW" in the title and Google has publicly invited some of the more notorious "anti-harassment" advocates to their headquarters before, but the tide quickly shifted when a producer for The Young Turks (basically the FOX News of the Left and arch-rivals with Alex Jones) tweeted that they were hit by a massive demonetization wave that affected over 500 of their videos. 

That tweet, coincidentally, is now unavailable. I suspect it's because a progressive was referring to it as censorship when there was no government intervention and no one was silenced... just de-funded. Fortunately, the internet never forgets

Then came the smaller channels. One lost revenue on a video about depression, another over a video on how to conceal acne. Even videos about suicide prevention by Boogie2988, the Internet's nicest guy, weren't safe.

My theory here, as one of YouTube's support Twitter accounts will not shut up about, is that they're doing it to push YouTube Red. YTR is a subscription-based service that feeds money to participating content creators, based on their view-counts, from the subscription money instead of advertising revenue. By de-monetizing regular YouTube videos, Google hopes to force content creators to switch to using YouTube Red instead. 

Let me give you an idea of the impact this would have on someone who isn't a content creator, but merely a subscriber. I don't have a webcam, and I don't particularly like being on camera, so I watch, listen, and learn. I take in a great number of various voices and viewpoints by listening to scientific lectures, entertainment podcasts, and political rants from all around the spectrum while I play video games. One of my favourite things to do after work is to put my feet up, boot up something like Assassin's Creed or Fallout, and wander around the map picking up collectibles and climbing towers while learning new and different things. So while this doesn't affect me directly, it does upset me that YouTube is doing this because YouTube is probably the Google product that I use the most. 

My fear is that this demonetization push is going to reduce YouTube to cat videos and make-up tutorials, with content creators that want to discuss serious topics fleeing to smaller, less reliable platforms for fear of their livelihoods. After all, if regular YouTube did this to them, who's to say that youTube Red won't do exactly the same later on?

Google:  Please don't do this. If this was a bot, turn it off. If this was a conscious decision, reverse it. You don't realize how important YouTube is to some people's day-to-day lives. It's a more powerful information and entertainment platform than any network or cable television channel, and you're neutering it.

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