6 Dark Secrets YouTube Doesn't Want You To Know
YouTube is the most fun you can have on the internet without committing crimes of wildly varying severity, providing billions of hours of user-generated entertainment for pretty much everyone on the planet. But you don't get to be what is essentially an entertainment monopoly without screwing a few people along the way, and as much as we all love the 'Tube, they aren't above doing some jacked-up shit to stay on top. For instance...
They Will Put Ads In Front Of Videos Made By Actual Nazis And Terrorists
YouTube might have revolutionized video content, but in order to make any money, it still relies on commercials the same way broadcast networks have had to for the past half century. But to offer advertisers the most bang for their buck, those commercials have to run across the entirety of YouTube. Which means that perfectly normal ads for air freshener might show up on a video that's just 12 minutes of a dude in his basement plotting the second Holocaust.
"Hey, racists eat at Applebee's too."
Because of the site's convenient (more on that later) adherence to free speech, a lot of hatemongers have found a home away from their shitty, victory-less lives on Youtube. But even though these idiots mostly parrot the same four thoughts bigots have been spouting since the Iron Age, YouTube still counts them as original content, meaning they qualify for ad support. This can result in nice big businesses unintentionally associating themselves with extremists, like when the Marie Curie charity appeared in front of videos supporting ISIS and al-Qaeda. We're not sure who was more offended by that partnership.
But YouTube's doing everything to stop this, right? After all, its rules specifically state that "We do not permit hate speech." But then how do you explain that someone like David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK and occasional political embarrassment, can upload a video claiming "the Jews" are "organizing a white genocide," and YouTube refusing to remove it? The company even admitted that the video was "anti-Semitic, deeply offensive, and shocking." But then again, YouTube benefits from everyone who visits their site, even hateful, racist dopes. It's insane how many videos pop up if you search "Hitler Was Right" with view counts that would make TV executives drool.
Then again, the most-viewed video for that search is a video of Nazis getting shot in the balls, so maybe there's some hope.
So the ones that are "just on the borderline" -- which is how Google spokesperson Peter Barron described the musings of the former Head Racist of America -- get a pass long enough for every neo-Nazi to hum the Mercedes-Benz ad tune in their sleep. YouTube will eventually delete the outright threatening videos, but the company has not put any regulation in place permanently dealing with these violations, meaning YouTube will happily profit from hate speech right up until it stops being profitable (read: when too many advertisers complain).
However, after serious governmental and corporate pressure, including threats to pull advertising, one Google executive was trotted out to apologize for allowing ads to run in front of hate-speech videos, promising to make it easier for advertisers to choose not to associate with the hate-speech videos YouTube will continue to let exist on its website.
"Advertise with Hitler" really seems like it should be an opt-in thing, but whatever.
And yet ...
YouTube Will Censor Videos Featuring Everyday Conservatives And LGBT Performers
YouTube is a bit like the bad part of town after dark, in that you're only ever a few wrong turns away from being talked to by a hooker or a psychopath. There's little stopping your child from accidentally stumbling onto a Pickup Artist video when they should really just be watching the same Disney music video a thousand times in a row.
"Poor, Unfortunate Souls" can double for both, when you think about it.
That is why YouTube has a "Restricted Mode" which filters out all content decent everyday people would find inappropriate -- like drugs or bad language.
Or gay people.
If you're under 18, don't look at this.
YouTube's restricted mode is an opt-in filter for people or organizations wishing to prevent their environment from ever hearing anyone say "fuck." However, a portion of Restricted Mode's algorithms take into account community flagging. Basically, if enough people don't like a video that has even the slightest whiff of a controversial thought, they could "flag" it and have it suppressed by the morality bots. This can (and has been known to) include videos from conservative commentators, second-wave feminists, or even normal-ass law professors such as Alan Dershowitz discussing the legal controversies surrounding the founding of Israel.
But it's not just boring people talking about boring politics that Restricted Mode mercilessly hunts down like a shit Terminator. YouTube has also cracked down on even tangentially LGBTQ videos, like a truly shocking video of a lesbian couple reciting their wedding vows. YouTube had warned the filter would include videos related to sexuality, but simply having a gay person in the video was enough to get entire channels punted out of Restricted Mode searches, leaving some LGBTQ members to ask "is it our dancing?"
Green is an ugly color, YouTube.
Again, after the backlash meter was appropriately filled, YouTube apologized for what they said was a mistake, admitting that the "feature wasn't working as it should." In the future, it will make it easier for people to restore wrongfully restricted videos, which will probably lead to the type of controversy tug-of-war that will make those videos an epilepsy threat.
Exploiting Children Is Big Business On YouTube
Kids will watch just about anything with bright colors or cool toys and they will watch the same stuff over and over. Which is why a) they're really boring to talk to and b) videos like these are the most popular things on YouTube:
All cars, but sadly no crashes.
Those billions of views only make up a small slice of the domain of the new YouTube royalty: people who make videos for toddlers (and who are often themselves toddlers). Like this Ryan ToysReview guy, who was three years old when his channel started. Like the baby version of a Let's Play video, Ryan's mom (who wishes to remain anonymous while showcasing her son's entire life online) films him "reviewing" toys by playing with them. At least, that's how it started. By now, Ryan is reviewing dozens if not hundreds of toys each video, thereby maximizing the appeal to millions of kids who just want to look at toys, barely having time to hold time before mouthing his scripted pleas for more subscribers.
And before you think this boy is being spoiled rotten, his mother is quick to remind critics that most of the toys are donated to charity, meaning Ryan doesn't even get to have the toys he's shilling to pay off his mom's mortgage. "He loves making videos," she disclaims in the same way a SeaWorld trainer will disclaim that the dolphins love jumping through hoops.
Worse, actually. Ryan doesn't even get fish afterwards.
As we said, kids will watch these kinds of videos a million times in a row -- and that includes the paid advertisements. This has led to a new breed of child "entertainer" (often children themselves) who are richer than any of us could ever hope to be. YouTube's most popular channels are dominated by videos aimed at children, and in 2016, 20 of the top 100 channels showcased kids' toys. The biggest channels, like Ryan's, collectively generate 4.5 billion views per month and can make as much as a million dollars a month from ad revenue alone. That's not to mention the encouragement they get from toy manufacturers, who are just so gosh darn grateful they get to circumvent labor laws by having someone else exploit kids for them.
YouTube Is Notorious For Screwing Over Artists
The internet is an awesome place for creative types. It's a platform providing unprecedented access to potential audiences, and total amateurs can become huge stars with a little luck and a lot of hard work. However, the internet also has a lot of sophisticated ways of making sure these creative people never earn a dime for their efforts.
"But you're getting exposure."
YouTube is on another level, though. They're almost industry leaders at screwing over musicians. Several high-profile recording artists like Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Taylor Swift, and U2 have demanded that YouTube crack down on the many videos illegally hosting their music. This fight has been going on for a decade now, with Prince threatening to sue the pants off YouTube back in 2007, saying, "They are clearly able to filter porn and pedophile material, but appear to choose not to filter out the unauthorized music and film content which is core to their business success." If Prince died hating your guts, that's worse karma than a million mummy curses.
But look how happy he is to be on YouT--oh, this is what he was talking about, huh?
But these well-established old timers care more about the principle than the money (with the notable exception of U2). For up-and-coming talent, YouTube isn't as much Fagen with his pickpockets as fat Mr. Bumble refusing them a decent serving of gruel. If you put together some really solid content and get signed on as a "YouTube Partner," you have the chance to make a little bit of money. And by "a little bit of money," we mean literal pennies. According to some sources, a video with one million views is worth a paltry $65. To give you a comparison point, for as much as "big" artists complain about Spotify, they pay out a solid 18x more than YouTube per user every year. Worse, it's almost totally arbitrary how YouTube arrives at the number they'll pay somebody. A video that pays $2 to a video host may pay $0.20 to another video with similar view counts. Still, you'll be warmer recording in front of your computer than busking out on the street -- until your heat gets turned off because the gas company doesn't accept "likes" as a form of payment.
YouTube Heavily Rewards Quantity Over Quality
You ever wonder who picks all those "recommended for you" videos YouTube coyly encourages you to click on? Well, when a channel reaches a certain point (5000 subscribers), a YouTube algorithm will begin to promote them and try to find new subscribers. It's win-win -- the channel gets a boost to their view rate, and YouTube gets viewers to spend even more of their coffee break on the site.
"Hey Amy, want to come to lunch with us?"
"No, I've got some work I need to catch up on."
But YouTube cares about more than a channel's popularity. The site is now actively competing with TV to see who can destroy this generation's attention span the most, and they can't feel like they're winning unless people spend as much time online as they do in front of the tube. In order to achieve this goal, YouTube has its "Watch Time" metric. Before, a channel was rewarded mainly for having lots of views (obviously). Now, the algorithm places more value on channels that upload videos with a long runtime, and do so frequently. This massive mudslide of content assures that viewers can stay glued to the channel for hours on end. In other words, bad news for highly produced, labor-intensive content, and good news for people who can churn out three-hour videos by just sitting in front of their laptop in their pajamas.
"We can't leave now! I'm invested!"
This new approach is especially harmful to creators like animators, according to famous YouTube animator Ross O'Donovan AKA Rubber Ninja. Animators generally spend days or even weeks making videos that are only a couple of minutes long. In that time, bigger channels and YouTube personalities can churn out dozens of hours of content. With the focus on the expanded Watch Time, not only do animators get less exposure from posting their stuff on YouTube, it also is making them poor -- well, poorer. The best-paying advertisers are also distributed via Watch Time, meaning each individual click is worth less to someone like Rubber Ninja. Soon, there will be no more animation left on YouTube and we'll have nothing else to stare at than boring real people and their boring fleshy faces.
The System Is Designed To Lock People Into Insane Contracts
With YouTube, it has never been easier to become famous. Plenty of people have done it sitting in the least messy corner of their bedroom. Every day, more naive, inexperienced YouTubers step off that digital bus, hoping to make it big on the smartphone screen. Fortunately, YouTube has taken many precautions to assure that these young "talents" are treated with fairness and openness and -- we're kidding, they're exploiting these kids just like every entertainment industry since mummers were a thing.
"You keep dancing like a trained monkey and, in return, we own your content, spin-offs, parodies, thoughts, hopes, and dreams forever."
Just like old-timey Hollywood and Motown studios, YouTube has a tendency to strongarm its creators into taking deals that are significantly worse than anything you'll get roped into at a used car lot. Many young adults, with their summer job experience and knowledge of corporate law gleaned entirely from immediately clicking "Agree" on the updated iTunes End User License Agreement, will say yes to just about anything that allows them to actually make money off of their YouTube videos. For example, when YouTube Red, the site's paid subscription model, was launched, creators were told to sign on for its new revenue deal or have their videos hidden from public view until they did. When YouTube was criticized of bullying, they proudly proclaimed that 99% of it creators had agreed to the deal without making a fuss. That's like refuting you're a mobster by saying you only had to burn down 1 percent of the business you threatened.
And that organized crime mentality trickles down to YouTube's networks (big channels with many content providers), who offer the kind of contracts even Satan would think are a bit one-sided. Take the story of Ben Vacas, AKA Braindeadly, who made World Of Warcraft videos. He got signed by Machinima, now an online corporate studio behemoth, but it was only after the Mont Blancs were tucked away that Vacas realized that any video he made would forevermore be owned by Machinima. There's no expiration date on his contract. Rather than sacrifice his soul, Vacas has stopped making videos altogether. A similar cautionary tale was Ray William Johnson who, only eight months into his deal with Maker Studios, was pressured into changing his contract to give the studio nearly half of his earnings "in perpetuity." The way the studio treated him was, quote, "a fucking nightmare, man."
YouTube locks you down for life -- literally. If a YouTube studio offers to "sign you," then you have to either go with their insane contract, or risk never getting another video view again. Where else are you going to go to make money off of your content? It's better to deal with the devil you know than Vimeo.
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