THOMAS: YouTube’s advertising policy carries unintended consequences

People are always preparing for doomsday scenarios in one way or another. Some build bunkers to prepare for alien invasions; others craft carefully sketched out plans for the zombie apocalypse.

But nobody expected the “Adpocalypse.”

For those unaware this brutal,  Earth-shattering event is not impending or upcoming. Rather, it occurred earlier this year around late March and early April.

The “Adpocalypse” is the result of a new YouTube advertisement revenue policy, which cut ad revenue for content creators across all genres. YouTube content creators are largely paid through the amount of traffic they are able to bring in and view the advertisements associated with their video. Although it may have been created and enforced with good intentions, the new policy has been to the detriment of YouTube and its community.

YouTube’s updated ad revenue policy was made to stop malicious content and keep advertisers from leaving the community and pulling funding. These companies, such as Johnson Johnson and ATT were fleeing YouTube because their ads preceded videos that contain controversial messages such as endorsing terrorism or hate speech.

Seeing the negative impacts these associations could have, the companies were warranted in leaving a system which may have damaged their reputation. After all, a company wouldn’t want its ad to be followed by a video condoning racism. As big funders continued to pull money, YouTube decided it was finally time to address the problem.

They attempted to do so by revamping their method of checking videos for malicious content. After making sweeps across policy including updating their inappropriate language policy, depiction of violence on screen and coverage on controversial issues, YouTube needed a method of enforcing the policy. In an attempt to cover the 400 hours of content published every minute, they decided to delegate the task to viewer input and an artificial intelligence.

The ensuing anger has been generated around the AI’s enforcement of the new policy. Youtube publishers who had been making a living on streaming immediately saw their revenue plummeting. One radical example was David Pakman, who had been making enough income per month on YouTube to help hire staff to publish news content. After the new policy, his revenue dipped to, at its lowest, 6 cents a day. YouTube publishers had little to no warning about the update and were startled by the changes.

The obvious unintended consequence with this policy is the propensity for a video to get demonetized mistakenly or unjustly. In these instances, publishers do have an opportunity to appeal the decision. However, these appeals tend to take time. To make matters worse, these time periods tend to take place around the crucial early phase of a video, when it’s likely to get the most views. This essentially eliminates compensation that content creators won’t be able to get back.

This uncertainty leaves a difficult choice for YouTube publishers. They can either remain where they are and continue publishing on YouTube, or move to other similar services.

To make staying on YouTube a viable option, some YouTube channels have developed Patreon sites for their subscribers. This is a service that helps viewers set up regular donations for their favorite producers with certain perks and tiers determined by the producer. In essence, some viewers are now paying for their favorite content.

Some YouTube publishers who leave decide to move to other streaming services such as Twitch, which is a site predominantly for content around video games.

What has been left behind is a fractured YouTube community. As more reforms or adjustments are made, the community remains upset. Some YouTubers have narrowed this down predominantly to an issue in communication.

YouTube has not proficiently communicated the upcoming change. Simultaneously, some of the changes implemented, such as alterations to the artificial intelligence and algorithms may not be given an opportunity to be properly tested.

While this anger is festering within the community, YouTube also has a real problem with killing off a much needed platform for free thought. Although hate speech and terrorist propaganda should be restricted, valid opinions have been impacted in the crossfire.

Videos which discuss political viewpoints have fallen victim to demonetization. This demonetization may come from the artificial intelligence or from viewers who don’t agree with the content and proceed to flag their videos.

A significant issue with this lies in the broad implications of the controversial issues policy. This particular section has led to anger across the political spectrum. LGBTQ community channels have been blocked from revenue by family-friendly material due to being “sensitive content”. Meanwhile, conservative thought organization Prager U has had 21 videos demonetized due to discussion on topics ranging from Israel to abortion.

It’s a shame that at a time when dissecting and covering political ideas is becoming more crucial for our nation, organizations are turning away from having the needed discussions.

YouTube’s newly refurbished ad policy was created to avoid angering its sponsors and viewers. Unfortunately, the changes inadvertently impacted middle-man content creators, further angering viewers. While YouTube may be doing well in terms of recovering their advertising sponsors, they need to fix the way they approach their demonetization process and find a way to protect creative freedom.

Randy Thomas is a junior political science and communication studies double major. Reach him at or via @DNopinion.

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