In early September, the Internet had one of its many collective aneurysms. The freak-out du jour? YouTube violating free speech and censoring creators. Videos were being flagged as having been “demonetized,” meaning that advertisers wouldn’t support these videos. Thus, the creator of the video couldn’t make any money from them. For the casual YouTuber, this is no big deal, but for someone who makes most — or all — of their money off of YouTube videos, this had the potential to really hurt them financially.
However, it soon became common knowledge that YouTube had not implemented a new policy; rather, they had fixed their notification system on the existing policy. As a result, creators were receiving a flood of notifications all at once that would, and should, have been dispersed as the videos originally came out or were flagged.
So, no harm, no foul, right? Wrong. This incident caused people to start to look at YouTube’s policies on what constitutes “advertiser-friendly content.” As the policy states:
“Content that is considered ‘not advertiser-friendly’ includes, but is not limited to: 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.”
Now, at the end of the day, advertisers get to choose what their name goes onto. They have that right. While everyone has the right to say what they want, since these creators are uploading to YouTube, YouTube can legally censor them if they so wish. However, some YouTubers are upset because some of their content that has been demonetized includes subjects like partial nudity, profanity, etc., which may have been accepted by advertisers on other platforms like television. In addition, since subjects “related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies” may be flagged and demonetized, legitimate YouTube news channels may be forced to shut down if they cannot report on such media (unfortunately in this world, war, conflict, tragedy, and disaster are all too common in the news). Also, some videos were flagged and demonetized that included copyrighted material, even if it was used under fair use, which is clearly a violation of the creator’s rights.
All of these examples are potentially violations of the creator’s rights to free speech. However, there is an appeals process that creators can take if they feel they have been unfairly demonetized. Still, it’s clear that the demonetization notification algorithm needs some work. Creators should have received demonetization notifications on their older videos when they came out, because otherwise the creators would have had no easy way to know why their video wasn’t making them money. There have been mistakes made in the system, which should be rectified. But at the end of the day, YouTube is a business that is trying to evolve and keep up with competition, so perhaps the internet world should give it some slack while it works out the kinks.