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YouTube adpocalypse update: Creators can now be punished even if they don’t violate community guidelines

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It’s been a turbulent 24 hours for YouTube creators. After Vox host Carlos Maza successfully pressured YouTube into demonetizing comedian Steven Crowder, YouTube introduced new “hate speech” rules which triggered a new adpocalypse that many are dubbing the #VoxAdpocalypse. Then in a further update, YouTube announced that even if creators don’t violate the community guidelines, they could still be punished under certain circumstances.

YouTube made the announcement in a post titled “Taking a harder look at harassment” where it discusses the reasoning behind demonetizing Crowder’s channel.

The post surprisingly contains a section defending free speech on YouTube:

“If we were to take all potentially offensive content down, we’d be losing valuable speech — speech that allows people everywhere to raise their voices, tell their stories, question those in power, and participate in the critical cultural and political conversations of our day.”

However, YouTube follows this up by saying it may take punitive action against creators who haven’t broken the rules:

“Even if a creator’s content doesn’t violate our community guidelines, we will take a look at the broader context and impact, and if their behavior is egregious and harms the broader community, we may take action. In the case of Crowder’s channel, a thorough review over the weekend found that individually, the flagged videos did not violate our Community Guidelines. However, in the subsequent days, we saw the widespread harm to the YouTube community resulting from the ongoing pattern of egregious behavior, took a deeper look, and made the decision to suspend monetization. In order to be considered for reinstatement, all relevant issues with the channel need to be addressed, including any videos that violate our policies, as well as things like offensive merchandise.”

In this section, YouTube is admitting that Crowder didn’t violate community guidelines yet it’s still taking punitive action against him because:

  • He was the victim of a mass pressure campaign from Vox and other legacy media outlets which YouTube deemed to be “harmful to the wider community”
  • He was selling a t-shirt outside of the YouTube platform (until Shopify reportedly removed it) which YouTube deemed to be “offensive merchandise”

YouTube is also admitting that the same reasoning it used with Crowder will now be applied to all YouTube creators. This means that if a creator’s videos or products start to get negative media attention, YouTube may decide to punish the creator, even if they haven’t broken any rules and regardless of how responsible they are for generating the negative media attention.

And it gets even worse for YouTube creators. YouTube finishes the post by saying:

“In the coming months, we will be taking a hard look at our harassment policies with an aim to update them — just as we have to so many policies over the years — in consultation with experts, creators, journalists and those who have, themselves, been victims of harassment. We are determined to evolve our policies, and continue to hold our creators and ourselves to a higher standard.”

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki suggested earlier this year that trade offs which impact innocent creators are necessary. And Ruth Porat, the CFO of YouTube’s parent company Alphabet, has indicated that YouTube plans to continue promoting “authoritative” legacy media sources on the site. Based on these statements and the way the latest adpocalypse has impacted independent YouTube creators, any updates to YouTube’s harassment policies are likely to further punish homegrown creators.

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