In its decade-plus of existence, YouTube has evolved many times. I remember a YouTube with star ratings, 240p quality, and a ten minute video limit. As the YouTube pie has grown bigger, more people are demanding pieces: of money, of control, of power. With YouTube's new enforcement of its advertiser-friendly content guidelines, the uneasy balance between YouTube as a money-making corporate entity and YouTube as a place of free expression has just grown even more tenuous.
This week, a number of YouTube's creators have noticed that many of their videos have had AdSense monetization turned off due to the videos not being "advertiser-friendly." In other words, creators can't earn revenue off of videos that don't fit within YouTube's guidelines. Here's how YouTube defines "not advertiser-friendly" content (emphasis added):
—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
All of the above is creating a stir among YouTube creators, but the bolded section is particularly controversial. Many YouTube channels specialize in or otherwise cover "controversial or sensitive subjects and events," including What's Trending. Is YouTube pushing out these channels by choking their revenue stream? If YouTube channels can't even discuss controversial subjects without losing monetization, will that incentivize channels to stop covering these subjects and make YouTube a sanitized, empty place?
A representative from YouTube told Variety that the platform "hasn’t changed its policy about what content is deemed advertiser-friendly. Rather, it recently adopted a new notification process that alerts creators via email when their videos have been found in violation of the policy."
One of YouTube's earliest and most popular adopters, Philip DeFranco, summed up why that's worse:
The controversy got its biggest early publicity in a video from DeFranco.
YouTube's creators have been grappling with the platform's guidelines as long as YouTube creators have been a thing. But this latest move has enraged creators like no other: over 350,000 tweets featuring the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty have been released in just a day.
Why the ire? It helps to understand what initially drove creators to YouTube over other platforms. Unlike TV, YouTube has historically been a place where creators, not advertisers, determine the content. As long as there's no nudity or graphic violence, anyone can upload a video. If the video is good enough, and you're in the right place at the right time, anyone can go viral and start earning money. With such a low barrier for entry, the perception has long been that talented people can make the content they want to make and get rewarded for it.
YouTube's newfound enforcement of its "advertiser-friendly" guidelines represents a seismic shift in that way of thinking. Now, the perception is that creators are beholden to the same standards as TV. With a more restrictive platform, how are creators like Philip DeFranco, h3h3 Productions, and What's Trending — creators that built their brands on the notion that internet content is and should be fundamentally different from TV — supposed to function?
Previous social media platforms like MySpace and Friendster died because a bigger, better competitor came along. Right now, there's no competitor that does what YouTube does for its creators at nearly the scale or efficiency of YouTube. (That could all change when Facebook starts monetizing its videos.) YouTube will not suddenly be "over" because of these newly enforced restrictions. But by alienating many of its top creators, YouTube is opening the door for them to leave.
What do you think? Will the tide turn against YouTube, causing creators to jump ship, or is there nowhere for creators to go? Let us know in the comments below or @WhatsTrending on Twitter!