A recent move by YouTube to demonetize videos with “controversial” subject matter has left many creators, including LGBTQIA channels, with questions and a lack of revenue.
In June, the company released the steps it planned to take to combat terror, and terrorists using its platform to either spread their messages or recruit. One of those steps was increasing the use of technology to identify “extremist and terrorism-related” videos, meaning machines trained as content-classifiers are combing the Tubes for extremist content.
The company also said it would take a tougher stand against videos that don’t necessarily violate policies in a clear way but are inflammatory in some way.
“These will appear behind an interstitial warning and they will not be monetised, recommended or eligible for comments or user endorsements. That means these videos will have less engagement and be harder to find. We think this strikes the right balance between free expression and access to information without promoting extremely offensive viewpoints,” the company’s general counsel wrote in an explanation to the Financial Times in June.
However, since the new regulations have gone into effect, many content creators are crying foul over inoffensive videos flagged for demonetization.
Author and comedian Gaby Dunn pointed out on Twitter on Sept. 14 that the system was working unfairly when flagging queer or mental health content, as did queer YouTuber Stevie Boebi, whose entire series of lesbian sex-ed videos was demonetized on Sept. 19.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand today all my lesbian sex ed videos have been completely demonetized.
— Stevie 🔮 (@stevieboebi) September 20, 2017
Dunn said any and all of the LGBTQIA content on her and Allison Raskin’s channel, Just Between Us, was demonetized, though heterosexual content remains monetized.
A little yellow circle appearing at the bottom of the video, with a message that it is “not suitable for all advertisers” was the only notification of the change Dunn received. Google and YouTube has been virtually silent about it, she said.
“One of our videos was re-instated,” Dunn said in an email to Autostraddle. “One where Allison is possessed by a fidget spinner (our channel is weird) but none of the bi or mental illness videos have been re-instated. Only that one, which I didn’t understand why it was demonetized in the first place under these specifications.”
Not only was it not communicated when or why the videos were demonetized, but it also affects Dunn and Raskin’s respective bottom lines by removing an important revenue stream, she said.
“It paid my rent and went towards paying our crew, who obviously deserve to be compensated for their labor,” Dunn said.
A Sept. 18 article in Forbes magazine calls the situation the “Adpocalypse,” because several controversies have apparently made advertisers nervous, causing some to pause their ad campaigns.
The article details the appeal process for creators, which YouTube encourages, but includes the caveat that not every appeal will get a human reviewer.
“If you think we got it wrong and your channel has more than 10,000 subscribers, you can appeal, and we will review your unlisted video regardless of view count. We do this because we want to make sure that videos from channels that could have early traffic to earn money are not caught in a long queue behind videos that get little to no traffic and have nominal earnings,” the company said.
And it’s not just LGBTQIA creators calling out YouTube: Video game content creators, conservative channels, and evangelical Christian channels are upset about the demonetization.
Dunn said her situation has not been resolved, and that given the new standards, she and Raskin will probably cut back on producing videos for the platform. But other creators who depend on YouTube revenue may not have the option.
“Allison and I may go down to one video a week from our usual two because the platform seems to hate the content we make — LGBT and mental health videos,” Dunn said. “We make money other ways luckily, through branded deals or selling TV shows. I made a good chunk from my two book deals last year. But many YouTubers don’t have other revenue streams so they rely on Patreon (which is hit or miss) or merch, which is also a gamble. It just makes no sense.”
Wtf? I remember something like this happened before w/YouTube and then people complained and I thought it got better? But now this seems just as bad/if not worse. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
It was the parental controls safe mode thing and they actually just made vague promises to fix it, said it was an AI issue. Fixed a few big name folks’ stuff and said we’ll try and work on it I think?
That’s what it was! Thanks for the info.
Youtube has always had a problem when it comes to communicating the changes that they make with regards to all the different ways that their algorithm places value on a video, and the monetisation aspect of the platform. But I mean, considering the incredibly huge number of videos they get uploaded on their platform every day, they can do very little besides relying on machine learning, and to be fair they are improving and I mean they dont have a shortage of data to go through, so all this will eventually come to a clean end.
From a technology perspective, machine learning is never going to be a good solution unless Google decides LGBTQ data is worth monetizing. If they feed biased data to their AI, data that tags LGBTQ content as not monetized, those videos will continue to be excluded. Also, to a lot of creators “eventually” might be too late.
Let’s hope they listen and learn from the backlash!
What I don’t get is that this lesson should be obvious from every rogue twitter AI that gets deployed and then goes Nazi after 4 hours of learning from people. I feel like all these tech companies trying to make money off of social things may need to someday employ someone who studies I don’t know sociology and actually think about what they’re doing. Many of these companies have more users than small companies have citizens.
It’s also worth noting that even if you appeal and youtube reinstates the video for monetization, most videos get effectively all of their views within the first couple days/week. So even if videos are technically monetized at a later date, the creators are unlikely to actually make any money off of them. This makes the appeal process useless, so a lot of creators likely don’t even bother challenging. (and I guess if your channel has fewer than 10,000 subs they don’t even PRETEND to care.)
I left this response on Gaby’s Twitter, but this demonetization of LGBTQIA content specifically makes no sense for advertisers, seeing as these videos get the most views on YouTube. At the very least, you’d think they’d want to capitalize on the community.
LGBTQ+ content (as well as fat-positive content) is the only reason that I’m even watching YouTube on a regular basis
If only YT would have strong competitor… Right now it’s just another example on why monopoly is a bad thing.
I agree with Nissiku… maybe a new platform might be the answer. It would be nice to have one focused on LGBTQ content! Maybe I should start learning how to do all this tech stuff lol
The world is really tiring sometimes and we as a community have to put up with so much on a daily basis! When you think there is a safe place where you can express yourself and find more things regarding our community it is taken away. I am really tired of it, tv shows especially.
Should launch a campaign asking why google hates Christians, conservatives, LGBTQ people, and youth struggling with mental health issues. Who wants to do any ad deals with YouTube when you put it like that? Companies should be pressuring YouTube to sort this out, since google doesn’t give a shite about us plebs using their services.
As i understand it, they have been training their A.I to tag videos based on how viewers tag or report on videos related to a particular content, its why videos about devise topics like religion, sexuality and politics get tagged so much, what i am hoping for is that once they get enough reports about videos being incorrectly tagged they look into it and come up with new parameters to help define to the code what is and isn’t acceptable to the advertisers.
Theyre also doing this with videos about disability and it just ticks me all the way off
This is an issue that is happening across all types of channels. Demonetization has been hurting a lot of people who have created a life around the income that Youtube provided. There’s a few gaming channels that I adore who simply just review games and they’ve been hit hard too. It’s what has pushed me to join Patreon.com and toss a few bucks a month to the people who’s content I devour.
The worst part is that there seems to be no human on the other end making these changes. It’s like they have set up a bot to determine everything. One Youtuber I follow tweeted and wrote about how hard it was to contact youtube over why his channel was hit and they wouldnt tell him anything. And another discovered via scripts that any video he had that said “fuck” was immediately defunded. The crazy thing is that other channels get ads and they post incredibly gory images but saying “fuck” is where youtube draws the line. Watchmojo is a good example of this. They literally have top tens videos about the goriest games/movies in which they show clips of the scenes but as long as they censor swear words (which they do) ads will appear before the video. TV is much the same way, I always found it absurd that The Walking Dead can show the imagery that it does but the main characters can’t say ‘fuck’. In regards to youtube I imagine other non-curse words are banned too. Could it be that the word ‘gay’ is considered insulting by the bot and so this is why LGBT channels are losing income?
There definitely needs to be more human oversight. But sadly given the size of Google and Youtube this is unlikely. They definitely need some competition….
I posted this article to Hacker News, where it struck up a lively conversation:
One of the commenters points out that Google is almost certainly using a Deep Neural Net to classify this material. As such, it would be almost impossible for Google to say why exactly any one particular video is flagged. A DNN with a million neurons is going to make a lot of connections, some of which will be counter-intuitive even to the computer programmers who have tuned the DNN. The programmers can only work at a fairly course level, tuning the DNN on various dimensions and then watching the end result. But a DNN is generally more sophisticated than simple whitelists, so this probably isn’t a case where someone used the word “cunt” therefore Google banned it.
For the creators of content, one of the most frustrating things is they can never get a clear answer about why they have been banned or demonetized. And as a technology, one of the most frustrating things about DNN is that no one can say why it has made a match that it has made.
The political question is how Google responds to the backlash. They could certainly tune the DNN to be less strict. If it turns out that Google doesn’t want to do that, then its lack of action is a clear revelation of its political agenda, and its eagerness to please a certain class of advertisers.
a) thank you for writing this article, it’s such important information to get out here,
b) it seems really awful that the place where lots of young people go to get LGBTQ+ education and content is effectively preventing those creators from continuing their work, and
c) if Just Between Us has to post less videos per week I will be VERY heartbroken, so fix this, YouTube!
(also, sorry, late night ottergirl brain works in list form)
I’ve heard that while videos with the word ‘lesbian’ are instantly demonetized, ‘gay’ is OK. What’s the logic behind that?
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