The community-based YouTubers Union claims to fight for the rights of the platform’s frustrated content creators, but until now it hasn’t had the influence or power to contribute much toward that goal. When they presented their list of demands to the platform last week, though, the effort came with the full force of Europe’s largest trade union, IG Metall, behind it.
They’re calling the collaborative initiative FairTube, and they’ve given the platform until August 24 to address their appeals for increased transparency and lobbying power among its community of content creators.
“We aren’t demanding things that cut into profits or are unrealistic. We want fairness. We want transparency. We want to be treated like partners. And we want personal communication instead of anonymous communication,” explained the leader of the YouTubers Union, Jörg Sprave, to Motherboard.
The campaign’s effort seems to be resonating with the YouTube community. Sprave told Gizmodo over email that the YouTubers Union has grown by 1200 members in the three days since the FairTube announcement video went live and “the comments are overwhelmingly positive.”
YouTube’s content creators have weathered several waves of mass demonetisation over the past few years. You’ve probably heard of the most notorious one in 2017: the “Adpocalypse,” wherein concerns about ads appearing before pro-ISIS propaganda and other extremist content led many advertisers to boycott the platform.
YouTube’s modifications to address these issues combined with its notoriously horrible copyright infringement system and a pattern of inexplicably flagging innocuous videos have severely impacted how independent creators make a living off the platform. This fallout from the “Adpocalypse” inspired Sprave to create the YouTubers Union in 2018.
“The real YouTubers that are the reason for YouTube’s big success are getting censored, deleted, erased and hidden. Making a living on YouTube is no longer possible,” Sprave explained in the video.
Given IG Metall’s recent efforts examining working conditions among crowdworkers, a.k.a. crowdsourced labour, it seemed the perfect time to pitch the idea of the two unions joining forces, Sprave told Gizmodo.
“It is a mutually favourable cooperation. We (the YouTubers Union) need their resources, experience and political influence, and the IG Metall needs our deep insights into the YouTube ecosystem and access to the YouTube community.”
The campaign’s list of demands includes calling on Youtube to create an independent mediation board to address disputed cases of demonetisation and guideline violations, in addition to throwing out their automated system of creator appeals in favour of human points of contact.
Perhaps most importantly, in the video Sprave says content creators want to be included in the company’s decision-making process, such as through the creation of a formal advisory board.
If YouTube fails to respond to FairTube’s demands by August 24, the campaign has multiple strategies to enact consequences.
The first: Use IG Metall’s team of lawyers to compel an examination of YouTube’s legal situation. According to the video, possible legal contentions include that content creators should constitute YouTube employees under the law and that Europe’s recently expanded definition of “personal data” could force the platform to increase its transparency with creators under Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.
The second: They aptly called this one the “shitstorm” approach. It’s a call to action for both its members and the larger community of YouTube content creators to demand improved working conditions.
The team hopes it doesn’t come to that, though, as Sprave explained to Gizmodo.
“Those are reasonable demands and if YouTube goes along, we think YouTube will even benefit from them. Happy YouTubers means a happier audience, and that can’t be a bad thing for everyone involved.”
Gizmodo reached out to Youtube and did receive an immediate response.