The Stories From 2019 YouTube Hopes You Forgot
At the end of every year, it's traditional for YouTube to publish a video cataloging the site's best bits from the past 12 months. But we watched the video for this year and noticed, well, a few things missing. So we cataloged them here! You're welcome, YouTube, no need to thank us.
January: The #BirdBoxChallenge Causes Carnage
At the beginning of the year, the then-new Netflix movie Bird Box inspired the #BirdBoxChallenge, which asked people to film themselves attempting everyday tasks while blindfolded. But what started as mindless fun got a little more serious after birdbrained dinguses like Jake Paul started purposely running into walls, throwing themselves into traffic, and driving -- again, all while totally blindfolded.
Netflix was soon begging people not to kill themselves for clout, while YouTube was so overwhelmed with this idiocy that it wound up banning all pranks/challenges that have "an inherent risk of severe physical harm." On one hand, it's objectively a good thing that they shut shit down so some blindfolded bozo in a Ford Fiesta didn't run people down while they were waiting in line for a much better movie than Bird Box. On the other hand, perhaps these people were on to something, because lord knows we all could've done with seeing less of 2019 than we did.
February: The Site Gets Outed As A Virtual Playground For Pedophiles
While Mom Twitter was losing its mind over "Momo," video creator Matt Watson published a terrifying expose about the real-life monsters using YouTube to link up and share videos in which kids are in "compromising sexually implicit positions," as well as trade straight-up child pornography.
Corporations like Disney, Epic Games, and Nestle began pulling their ads from the site. After all, the last thing that any of these companies would ever want is to be associated with child exploitation. YouTube responded by banning the users and comments identified by Watson, and disabling the ability to comment on videos featuring minors in order to prevent them from "attracting predatory behavior."
The following month, however, a report from The New York Times revealed that despite these changes, the site's recommendations algorithm could still be exploited by pedophiles, and suggested that videos containing children should be blocked from the system -- an idea YouTube rejected, on the grounds that it would harm those videos' viewing figures (apparently not realizing that would be the entire point).
Related: There's Something Much Scarier On YouTube Kids Than Momo
March: The "Subscribe To PewDiePie" Meme Ends In Tragedy
For much of 2018, the internet was enthralled by the "battle" between PewDiePie and Indian record label T-Series over who would become the most-subscribed-to channel on YouTube. From this, the "Subscribe to PewDiePie" meme was born. And much like PewDiePie, it was soon annoying the living shit out of everyone.
Websites were hacked, racist diss tracks were recorded, ransomware was coded, and war memorials were defaced. And then on March 15, a white supremacist live-streamed himself saying the phrase (in a possible troll move to cause confusion, we still don't know) before shooting up two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
After the shootings, in which 51 people died, the wider YouTube community walked back from promoting the meme, while PewDiePie later asked his followers to let the whole thing end.
April: YouTube Recommends Insane Conspiracy Theory Videos To Black Hole Fans
At this point, the world's attention was sucked up and consumed, rather appropriately, by the announcement that scientists had snapped the first-ever image of a black hole. As people flocked to YouTube to watch experts explain this discovery with all the seriousness it deserved, the site started redirecting stargazers toward a video about how humans are actually genetically engineered alien slaves.
However, as goofy as this story is, it's more evidence (if any was needed) of the platform pushing unsuspecting viewers toward (and thereby helping radicalize them into) bad, bad, really bad ideologies like conspiracy theories and white supremacy. That is, when it isn't telling them about 9/11 for seemingly no reason.
May: YouTube Continues To Not Care About Abuse
You never know where your childhood heroes are going to end up. Barney is now a tantric sex guru, Charlie Brown is now a hardened criminal, and "Brain" from beloved childhood staple Arthur is now a right-wing propagandist by the name of "Steven Crowder."
In May, Vox contributor Carlos Maza spliced together a
highlowlight reel demonstrating how for the past several years, Crowder has been subjecting Maza to racist and homophobic invective during the daily verbal diarrheacasts he uploads to his YouTube channel.
Crowder's behavior clearly violates the site's policies against hate speech. Responding to Maza's complaint, however, YouTube confused it for a literal hate speech policy and told Maza that while they found that the videos contained "hurtful" language, Crowder didn't violate their policies because it's important for everyone to be able to "express their opinions." The site was soon forced to backtrack this decision, however, after everyone (including their own staff) pointed out that they were basically A-OKing Crowder calling Maza a "lispy q***r" and an "anchor baby."
June: A Horrific New Type Of Animal Video Emerges
OK, so we might have been a little harsh on YouTube. It's not all dangerous pranks, pedophiles, cults of personality, conspiracy theories, and homophobia. There are also animal videos, and who doesn't love a good animal vid- oh, goddammit.
In June, it was revealed that a Bond-villain-in-training trend had taken hold on the site. Animal owners would film their pets being attacked and damn near killed by dangerous predators like snakes, only for them to swoop in at the last possible second to save them.
The majority of these videos -- with titles like "Python Attack On Puppies," "Real Anaconda Stalks Cat," and "Brave Man Rescues Family Puppies From Giant Python" -- were filmed in such a way as to suggest that these were all real things that somebody just happened to be walking by while holding a camera. When you dig into them, though, these videos demonstrate practically every hallmark of being staged, what with the multiple angles, continuity errors, and oh yeah, the basic fact that domestic animals don't tend to dick around in python nests.
The worst thing, though? These videos all have hundreds of thousands to millions of views each. Or rather "had," because YouTube banned the genre almost immediately.
Related: 15 Ways To Instantly Spot (And Skip) Horrible YouTube Videos
July: YouTube Bans An Anti-Nazi Movie ... From 1938
While doing research for a book, writer Matt Novak stumbled upon a copy of Inside Nazi Germany, a newsreel produced in 1938 that was one of the first movies to call out Hitler and the Nazis for their racist crimes.
Although it was shot before Kristallnacht, it's still an important historical document. So Novak uploaded the film to YouTube, where it could hopefully serve as a reminder of how, hot take, Nazis are bad. YouTube then removed the video on the grounds that its content was "not acceptable," and only reinstated it (without any explanation of why it was removed or why it was suddenly acceptable) after Novak wrote an article about it.
It seems that despite vowing to ban content that openly supports white supremacy and Nazism, the only Nazi content that YouTube is quick to remove is the anti-Nazi stuff. It's almost like those channels get preferential treatment because they bring in viewers. But that's just conspiracy thinking, right?
August: It Turns Out Some Channels Get Preferential Treatment Because They Bring in Viewers
In August, The Washington Post revealed that, based on interviews it conducted with several current and former YouTube content moderators, rather than being a Borg-like organism that lives only for CONTENT ASSIMILATION, YouTube plays favorites with content creators worse than us with Skittles. (TASTE THE RAINBOW IN HELL, GRAPE!)
According to the sources, famous content creators who broke the sites rules were frequently given more lenient punishments than other, lesser channels -- which often took the form of a "looser interpretation of guidelines prohibiting demeaning speech, bullying and other forms of graphic content." The moderators also talked about how when they recommended that a channel be stripped of advertising as punishment for rule-breaking, this request would "frequently overruled" by higher-ups in the company if the case involved "higher-profile content creators who draw more advertising."
YouTube denied all this, claiming they treat all content creators equally -- a statement funnier than any punchline we could come up with here.
Related: 5 YouTube Personalities Who Escaped Scandal Unscathed
September: YouTube Gets Caught Violating Countless Children's Privacy
Just as the internet was beginning to forget that YouTube is essentially a dating website for child predators, the FTC found that it had violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, aka COPPA, aka the law that prohibits websites from collecting data on anyone younger than 13, aka that thing you only know about because of Silicon Valley.
YouTube initially argued that because the site is aimed at a broad age range and doesn't produce child-specific content, they weren't required to follow COPPA. The FTC then quickly pointed out that YouTube had not only maintained and curated content for a separate kids app, but they'd also touted the site's popularity among children to advertisers. Which means they were collecting data specifically related to children. Their obvious lies having been refuted, YouTube coughed up $200 million as an apology -- a sum of money that they probably made back in the time it took you to read this article.
October: A Troll Admits To Using YouTube's Systems To Blackmail Creators
In October, copyright troll Christopher Brady was forced to pay $25,000 to YouTube after admitting to using the site's copyright enforcement system to blackmail several gaming channels. Under YouTube's current system, channels are allowed only three copyright strikes on their account before the site deletes them. Brady, therefore, would use an army of sock puppet accounts to level two copyright strikes against a channel, then slide into the channel owner's DMs and threaten to launch a third strike unless they paid him several hundred dollars.
It's also thought that Brady used YouTube's system to obtain the home address of one of his victims, which he then used to send an armed SWAT team busting through their door. This is a practice which has legit gotten people seriously injured and even killed.
November: YouTube Is Called Part Of "The Greatest Propaganda Machine In History"
On November 21, actor Sacha Baron Cohen accepted an international leadership award from the Anti-Defamation League, ostensibly for his long career of making racists, idiots, and racist idiots say the quiet part out loud while on camera. Cohen used his acceptance speech to tear apart social media companies like Facebook and Twitter for caring "more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy," and he didn't spare YouTube his attention.
Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others -- they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged -- stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It's why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It's why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth ... After years of YouTube videos calling climate change a "hoax," the United States is on track, a year from now, to formally withdraw from the Paris Accords. A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet -- this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.
That's an even worse tea-bagging than he gave during the wrestling scene in Borat.
December: Why Are We Still Using This Garbage Site, Again?
There's a rumor that if you make funny and/or clever content for the internet, you'll eventually be rewarded with the fame and adulation you so definitely deserve. For those unwilling to wait to be discovered, however, there's another way: buying fake likes, subscribes, F's in chat, and other types of engagements from click farms.
Of course, this is incredibly unethical, and in 2018, one such "farm" was fined $50,000 by the New York Attorney General, in "the first finding by a law enforcement agency that selling fake social media engagement and using stolen identities to engage in online activity is illegal." Social media companies also talk a big game about how much they hate these folks, but like with everything else illegal on their platforms, they seemingly don't mind them enough to warrant, y'know, doing anything substantive about it.
In December, a report by the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence revealed that as part of a sting operation against Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and yes, YouTube, they'd bought over 54,000 fake engagements from several "social media manipulation service providers." When they checked up a month later, they found that only 20% of these fake engagements had been identified and deleted by YouTube, et al. Meanwhile, of the 19,000 sock puppet accounts which engaged, 95% were still active.
Facebook and Twitter performed best in this test, while the worst-performing sites were Instagram and YouTube -- the latter of which deserves a special commendation for deleting precisely jack and shit. Which is pretty significant, given the potential for these fakes to be used to push disinformation and other nasty garbage straight into your amygdala. It's a good job there's not an election coming up, or we'd be pretty screwed.
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