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.
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.
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.”