Last week, big advertisers such as AT&T pulled ads from YouTube, in reaction to being matched with content that was deemed racist or inappropriate. YouTube has since said they are fine-tuning how people make money on YouTube in general, but content creators on the platform say their channels are being unfairly affected by changes they do not understand.
Figuring out how to make money consistently on YouTube is a bit of a struggle: While creators can get revenue from from ads, individual views don't account for much money until they reach the hundreds of thousands. Making sure your videos can reliably have ads matched with them is essential for creators being able to have long term revenue. Six months ago, when YouTube introduced guidelines that outlined certain political content as inappropriate for monetisation, creators like Philip DeFranco reacted with frustration, fearing their channels were over.
More recently, YouTube announced new policies for monetisation on March 20, saying that they would be cracking down on hate speech, and introducing strong controls for advertisers to determine what videos their ads are displayed next to, among other things. The same day, YouTubers like Ethan Klein, also known as H3H3 Productions, said that they had hundred of videos demonetised without warning. Given the amount of content that was demonetised, it's hard for him to ascertain which of these videos break the guidelines.
YouTube has demonetized everything from "Vape Nation" to "Thank You for 3 million" with no notification and no option to appeal @TeamYouTube
— Ethan Klein (@h3h3productions) March 29, 2017
It isn't just large channels that are being affected by these changes — YouTuber Tim TV, who has been a fulltime YouTuber for about six months, told Kotaku that on he saw that his revenue was "tanking faster than ever before", and that he found the changes "terrifying".
"Not only was seeing something like this demotivating," he said, "but was also incredibly scary as I'm now going to be riding off of my savings until these issues hopefully blow over."
Two days after YouTube announced the monetisation changes, The Wall Street Journal broke the news about the video platform by reporting that major advertisers were pulling ads from YouTube. At the time, one representative from WalMart stated, "The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values." In particular, the Journal noted that ads from these companies were being displayed before videos that featured racial slurs in the title and description, as well as videos about Holocaust denial. In response, Google said that they would improve their policies on what content is considered acceptable for the platform and would continue to pull ads from inappropriate footage.
But YouTubers are reportedly already feeling an unintended effect of these pending changes. Creators like H3H3 Productions, Philip DeFranco and Jenna Marbles have all had hundreds videos no longer qualify for advertising revenue, and other YouTubers are claiming they didn't have a chance to appeal their demonetisation.
While YouTube says that the inability to appeal was a bug, YouTubers find these changes too opaque, given that they were not warned that it would happen or how. Today, YouTube released a statement about the changes and how to appeal demonetisation. While YouTube's statement does warn creators that they will be "seeing fluctuations in your revenue over the next few weeks", and explains how to appeal demonetisation, creators feel like the guidelines on how to make content advertiser friendly is still too vague.
Responding to the statement in a tweet, Arin "Egoraptor" Hanson said that he wanted YouTube to "be more clear about what advertisers are opposed to having their ads displayed on. What can creators do specifically to make their content more advertiser [friendly]?"
"It honestly makes me feel worse about the situation," Tim TV said. "For some reason, [YouTube] continually seem to only respond to issues when they blow up to the point of mass panic in the community, and then they give a blanket statement that gives the impression that they're just trying to push the issues under the rug."
While YouTube assures creators that they are "working as fast we can to improve our systems so that… revenue continues to flow to creators over the long term", and that they have made the appeals process for demonetised videos faster, some are still sceptical. YouTuber Stephen Jay "Boogie2988" Williams said in a video today that while he understands why this is happening, he still can't appeal demonetised videos.
While YouTube continues to operate in seemingly mysterious ways that confuse and anger content creators, there is a narrative forming around why YouTube is changing. The Wall Street Journal reported both the Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg fiasco from earlier this year, as well as the more recent advertising changes, leading the assumption that, by reporting this news, the publication is also responsible for the actions of big brands, or YouTube's unwillingness to communicate with its creators about changes that affect people's livelihoods. "I know some of you are still scratching heads, saying, 'Boogie, who am I supposed to be mad at?'" Williams said in today's video. "Me? I'm going for the media."