The recently formed Internet Creators Guild has highlighted the growing concern around the "de-monetisation" of videos that transgress YouTube's content guidelines.
The ICG was formed in June by YouTuber Hank Green, with the aim of protecting the interests of the growing community of online content creators. Recently, YouTube appeared to tighten its rules around which videos could be monetised through advertising, marking videos that its algorithm deemed to have inappropriate content, and sparking widespread concern among those the ICG represents.
In an article posted to Medium, the ICG clarified that YouTube's content guidelines haven't changed. Videos have been de-monetised on the grounds of inappropriate content since 2012, but only now has YouTube started directly informing creators about specific instances. "Recently, five years worth of de-monetized video notifications flooded into creators' inboxes," the ICG said. "Creators understandably assumed that this had happened recently, not months or even years ago."
"It appears to us that this is a big enough hammer that it could be used to hit all but the most bland of YouTube videos"
The ICG noted that, despite appearances, there is a positive side to this change. There is a new clarity to the communication between YouTube and creators, and an appeals process has been put in place that generally takes less than 24 hours to complete. YouTube has said that less than 1% of partner videos have been de-monetised, and the appeals process has resulted in, "a high rate of re-monetisation."
The aim for YouTube is to make the platform a more appealing environment for advertisers, a cause that the ICG regards as in line with its own goal of, "[making] careers for professional online creators more sustainable." However, it also outlined clear concerns over YouTube's standards and methods. According to the ICG, there are five key areas that creators must avoid when publishing videos on YouTube: sexually suggestive content, violence, inappropriate language, promotion of drugs and regulated substances, and controversial and sensitive subjects and events.
The last area includes subjects related to, "war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown." This calls to mind the vague standards that Apple applies to games on the App Store, which have resulted in numerous refusals and delays - including Liyla & The Shadows of War and Papers Please, among many others.
"It appears to us that this is a big enough hammer that it could be used to hit all but the most bland of YouTube videos," the ICG said. "Guidelines that contain something as broad as 'subjects related to political conflicts' do not provide creators with useful information. It makes it sound as if YouTube is no longer going to monetise channels that cover current events, which of course is not the case."
The ICG also stated its concern that "so many videos that obviously should not have been de-monetised were and for so long," raising obvious questions around the accuracy of YouTube's methods. Even with an appeals process, this could have a serious impact on the earning potential of videos in a marketplace where "timely or viral content" is valuable.
"Having to go through an appeals process or having a video stay de-monetised could have the unintended consequence of discouraging creators from making edgy, interesting content"
The ICG also makes an argument similar to that forwarded by those who object to the content guidelines applied to mobile games: that the problems caused by falling foul of YouTube's guidelines will push creators towards self-censorship. "Having to go through an appeals process or having a video stay de-monetised could have the unintended consequence of discouraging creators from making edgy, interesting content. For professional online creators looking to make a living with regular videos that engage their audience, some may re-think the type of content they produce, alter the metadata of their videos, or feel like their content isn't welcome on YouTube.
"We want to publicly say to YouTube: feel free to lean on the Internet Creators Guild in the future if and when communication policies change or new features launch. We know creators, because we are creators."
According to data from Newzoo, 500 million people will regularly watch gaming content on YouTube this year, making games one of the most lucrative categories for online creators. The platform does offer an ad-free subscription network, YouTube Red, which would theoretically allow those involved to break free from those content guidelines.
The video embedded below - originally published on the "CreepsMcPasta" channel - offers more insight into the widening "mistrust gap" between YouTube and its community of creators.