Opinion

The Effect of Controversy on YouTube

Written by Brandon Pratt

As the years progress, YouTube has become increasingly larger and larger. Like most of the internet, content is uploaded much too quickly for any regulation to be effective. It is impossible to manage all media on a platform in which 300 hours of video is uploaded each minute. In reality, YouTube is losing its ability to control its own platform, and users are being hurt in the process.

The Ad-pocalypse

Google generates 90% or more of its revenue from selling advertising space, and much of that revenue comes from selling video advertisements on YouTube. Pewdiepie (Felix Kjellberg) made a mistake that shows just how volatile this large platform can be. As the holder of the highest subscriber count on YouTube, his average video receives over four million views. In September of 2017, Kjellberg used a racial slur in a livestream, a mistake that was met with intense backlash. News of his offensive language had soon spread to every inch of the internet. Everyone knew about his blunder, including advertisers. Some of the largest advertisers, including big name brands like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Walmart, At&T, and Verizon, withdrew from buying advertising time on YouTube. This was an entirely reasonable mode of action, because they did not want their company name plastered on an obscene video. Kjellberg definitely learned his lesson and he made that very clear. He recorded an apology, but many viewers remained unforgiving. However, he was not the only one affected by the boycott.

Pewdiepie’s channel now has a subscriber count of around 60 million.

Such a loss of money caused noticeable changes in YouTube. The platform immediately began to enact very strict rules and demonetize videos with just a few reports. Demonetization is when YouTube deems a video not appropriate for advertisers and refuses to give the creator any revenue for the video. The intention behind this was to rebuild relationships with big advertisers and supporters. As expected, videos started being flagged and demonetized for little to no reason. Many YouTubers who posted a popular video did not earn any money for the views. Creators could reach out to the platform, but YouTube was slow to re-monize flagged videos. These new changes caused many content creators to suffer greatly. People could no longer make enough money to make creating content a worthwhile commitment. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of a greater issue on YouTube.

The Logan Paul Issue

Logan Paul has one of the fastest growing channels on YouTube. The ex-Disney channel star has been vlogging on a daily basis for about a year and a half. Youtube absolutely loves creators like him; he produces hours of content each week that is advertiser-friendly. Because of this, Logan Paul is included in the Preferred Program. This is a package YouTube sells to advertisers to allow them to get there ads on many pre-approved YouTube channels that they believe are wholesome and clean creators. His main demographic includes young kids, mostly ranging from eight to thirteen.

The real issue began when Paul went to the Aokigahara forest. This is a gruesome place, just outside Mount Fuji in Japan. This forest is commonly known as the “Suicide Forest”, and serves as a popular place for many people to take their own life. This was one installment in a series of vlogs about his trip to Japan. Tourists are welcome to visit the forest, but there are a few rules that must be followed. Within his short visitation, Paul seemed to have broken almost all of them. These regulations follow common sense, and include not videotaping suicide victims, calling the police immediately after finding a body, and staying on the trails. In the video, Paul found a man who hung himself when he went off trail, disobeying one of the simplest rules of the forest. Logan included footage of the body in the video while zooming in on the body and making jokes about the tragedy. In the thumbnail, he showed himself posed in front of the dead body.

The right half of the thumbnail; the other half of the image featured a man who took his own life.

Not only was the thumbnail and the content of the video very inappropriate for his audience of young teens and pre-teens, it showed just how disconnected he is with the YouTube community guidelines. The video featuring a dead man in the thumbnail was on the websites featured list. It remained on the front page of the website for a couple hours. In response to Paul’s actions, Pewdiepie stated, “It’s the sorta thing you see on an off-brand website, it’s not the kind of thing you’d see on YouTube – very disturbing, really disrespectful”.

Many argued that Paul knew what he was getting himself into because he wanted to post something controversial. Paul prefaced the video by saying, “I think this definitely marks a moment in YouTube history, because I’m pretty sure this has never – hopefully – happened to anyone on YouTube ever”. It is very clear throughout the video he knows, and possibly hopes, that he will find a dead body. For obvious reasons, numerous people reported the video, but because Paul is undeniably one of YouTube’s “Golden Boys”, they were very slow to remove the video. Logan removed the video himself after it picked up the well-deserved heat from the community.

It was only a matter of time before a large channel that is based around immature humor and obnoxious, disrespectful culture would bring harm to YouTube. YouTube in fear of again, losing revenue from many advertisers began to tighten its regulations on rules for monetization. Tighter regulation means smaller content creators have a harder time getting an incentive to produce content. YouTube released a new set of criteria for YouTubers to meet in order to monetize their content.

Unfortunately, Paul struck again. A week or so after his horrendous video was brought down, Paul uploaded a video in which he talks with suicide survivors and mental health professionals. In this video, he claims his trip to the forest was meant to raise suicide awareness, but he instead made a joke of it to boost his ratings. He promised to become more sensitive on the topic of death, but that did not last long.

Not long after his “heartfelt apology” was published, Paul returned to his immature ways. In a vlog, he tapes himself tasering the bodies of two dead rats and jokingly gives one of his koi fish CPR. Of course, this all came after he bragged about gaining one million subscribers during his break. Because of this inappropriate and insensitive content, YouTube has finally suspended ads from his channel, meaning he will no longer be receiving revenue from his videos.

Each time a major creator makes a mistake it seems Google finds a way to satisfy the advertiser’s concerns, but does so in a manner that damages smaller creators. People like Paul and Kjellberg deserve to be disciplined, but Google should find a way to cause less harm to beginning channels. Not every creator asks for a living wage, but creating quality content can take hours for just a couple minutes of video. Not many people have that kind of time to invest without getting something in return. Hopefully, as the days unfold, YouTube will find a better method to manage its flow of content and small content creators will stop being snuffed out.

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