Barring a few exceptions – the couple that had their child taken away by social services for repeated pranks, for example, or the man arrested for taking down a stop sign at an intersection – generally speaking, what happens on YouTube stays on YouTube.
That suits parent company Google just fine – the less scrutiny given to its laissez-faire moderation policies the better. If you think it can’t possibly be responsible for the content it hosts – not an argument without merit considering that 65 years of footage are uploaded every day – then that’s a job done as far as Alphabet executives are concerned.
But scandals keep disturbing the peace, and YouTube is belatedly – very belatedly – taking some action to fix the problem. Or at least stop people talking about the problem long enough for advertisers to stop getting spooked.
And we have Logan Paul to thank for that. The millionaire YouTube celebrity’s tasteless video exploiting the suicide of a man for the video engagement triggered extreme navel-gazing from the company, which eventually pulled funding from his videos with an extreme wag of the finger. “We expect more of the creators who build their community on @YouTube, as we’re sure you do too,” the company said in a Twitter statement, causing plenty of eyebrows to involuntarily shoot upwards in unison given the kind of content the site has given the all-clear to in the past.
Now, thanks to Paul’s controversial comeback video involving him tasering a dead rat, YouTube is ready to go further, threatening sanctions to users whose “egregious actions” harm “the reputation of the broader creator community among advertisers, the media industry and most importantly, the general public.”
“When one creator does something particularly blatant—like conducts a heinous prank where people are traumatised, promotes violence or hate toward a group, demonstrates cruelty, or sensationalises the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers—it can cause lasting damage to the community, including viewers, creators and the outside world,” wrote Ariel Bardin, vice president of product management at YouTube in a blog post.
Claiming that these changes weren’t targeting the 99.9% who play by the rules Bardin went on to outline the additional steps that will sit alongside the largely ignored community guidelines. If a channel uploads content that results in “widespread harm”, the site reserves to the right to:
- Remove monetisation programs, promotion and content development partnerships
- Suspend the ability to serve ads and earn revenue
- Remove a channel from recommended spots on YouTube, such as “watch next” or appearing on the homepage
In other words, they plan to hit content creators with two blows where it hurts: the wallet and the ego.
“We expect to issue these new consequences only in a rare handful of egregious cases, but hope they will help us prevent the actions of a few from harming the broader community,” Bardin concluded.
Will it work?
You’d have to be incredibly naive to think that this is YouTube taking a principled stand, rather than reacting to negative coverage from those outside the site looking in. It’s not like Logan Paul’s videos were always controversy-free before the suicide forest video fiasco, and the company had no problem promoting him at every opportunity then.
Still, people can both do bad things with good intentions and – in this case – good things for the wrong reasons. And, if YouTube properly enforces this once the latest controversy blows over, the changes could definitely improve the site. While TV has strict rules of what can and can’t be broadcast, YouTube is the wild west – only without the pretence of a sheriff to keep things in order. With an audience of millions of wannabe stars, the site works on a perverse incentive scheme: to get to the top, you have to do something more outrageous than the last viral sensation.
At last YouTube has acknowledged there is a line which could end that arms race of stupidity. If people can essentially have the oxygen of publicity cut off for going too far, then maybe they’ll think critically while planning, shooting, editing, or uploading their videos.
You’d have hoped that the final straw would have come with the accidental shooting of a man last year, but it looks like it took someone of Logan Paul’s status to finally make YouTube take responsibility for its years of inaction. It may be too late for this generation of stars, who don’t need the exposure to get attention, but maybe the next batch will give Google fewer fires to put out.