YouTube knows well that its advertisers don’t want their brands associated with disinformation, and the company can’t proactively filter through 500 hours of content per minute to look for it. On the other hand, beleaguered small creators say they’re feeling effectively yet another gag order by the platform, which has long coddled its Logan Pauls and left the little guys to go it alone.
Tom Leung, YouTube’s director of product management, announced in a general PSA last month that the company has classified the coronavirus as a “sensitive event,” and that henceforth all videos focused on the topic will be demonetised “until further notice.” (“Sensitive events” include global health crises, terrorist attacks, and armed conflict.)
Back in 2016, the “sensitive events” classification caused an uproar with a resulting #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag when creators started receiving email notifications informing them that “controversial or sensitive subjects” such as natural tragedies would be demonetised as the content was considered “not advertiser-friendly.”
So people are manoeuvring around the algorithm. Device reviewer Linus Sebastian opened his most recent episode with: “For today’s video, I won’t be directly commenting on the recent health-related news because a. I’m not a medical professional, and b. I don’t need my video demonetised.” The episode, which is about why people should buy computers right now, goes on to describe the recent supply chain disruption in China. The cause is an unnamed phenomenon. The episode features mid-roll and pre-roll ads.
That kind of workaround might not be so easy for folks like listener-supported political commentator David Pakman, who for obvious reasons needs to discuss current events and has criticised YouTube for prioritising corporate news media. Pakman told Gizmodo that he won’t be ignoring the topic.
“I’d rather not say that much about the techniques we’re using [to avoid demonetization] since it might draw attention to them,” he said. “But we have made the decision not to restrict coverage of the issue merely because of the demonetization, since I find the issue to be of significant public health importance.”
YouTube has not responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but the company told the Verge that channels that are devoted to covering sensitive subjects “should” still be allowed to collect ad revenue from coronavirus-related content.
That’s not reflected on the platform, though, and given the immensity of content, the idea that YouTube will retroactively sort through channels on a case-by-case basis sounds like wishful thinking to smaller creators who’ve been through this rodeo.