In its desperation to placate corporate advertisers YouTube has antagonized many of its independent creators, but now they’re fighting back.
YouTube has to strike a delicate balance between the needs of independent creators, who generate most of its traffic, and corporate advertisers, who provide most of its revenue. For the past couple of years, whenever an advertiser has complained about a type of content, YouTube has usually moved to ensure that content has no ads served on it – demonetization. Since a cut of ad revenue is often the sole source of income for the YouTuber, this can have devastating consequences.
More rarely YouTube will also censor entire videos or even ban certain creators from the platform entirely. Recently YouTube’s apparent decision to side with Vox journalist Carlos Maza in a dispute with YouTuber Stephen Crowder, and subsequently impose fresh censorship rules, led to further claims of bias against independent creators, despite its CEO’s claims to the contrary.
Now we have the news that an obscure ‘YouTubers union’ has joined forces with IG Metall – Germany an Europe’s largest industrial union, to form the campaigning group FairTube. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least because the digital world has seemed to have no place for trades unions until now.
FairTube has called for the following from YouTube and given it until 23 August to engage with it, or else.
- Publish all categories and decision criteria that affect monetization and views of videos
- Give clear explanations for individual decisions — for example, if a video is demonetized, which parts of the video violated which criteria in the Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines?
- Give YouTubers a human contact person who is qualified and authorized to explain decisions that have negative consequences for YouTubers (and fix them if they are mistaken)
- Let YouTubers contest decisions that have negative consequences
- Create an independent mediation board for resolving disputes (here the Ombuds Office of the Crowdsourcing Code of Conduct can offer relevant lessons)
- Formal participation of YouTubers in important decisions, for example through a YouTuber Advisory Board
Exactly what FairTube will do if YouTube doesn’t play ball is unclear. Traditional industrial action is unlikely as it’s hard to see how they could get YouTubers to down tools in sufficient numbers to have a significant effect on YouTube traffic. But in the latter half of the video below you can see that FairTube has three avenues it thinks it could pursue to escalate.
- Contesting the status of YouTube creators as self-employed, thus creating a greater duty of care on YouTube towards its creators.
- Claiming GDPR violations due to YouTube’s refusal to give creators the data it stores about them and which it does share with advertisers.
- Old fashioned collective action – not so much striking as spreading the word and joining the union to put collective pressure on YouTube and its own Google.
Unstated but baked into this last point is the growing regulatory and antitrust pressure being put on all internet platforms, not least by US president Donald Trump. Meanwhile the European Union, while having the turning circle of a supertanker, can impose some pretty severe sanctions when it gets its act together. We’ll leave you with YouTuber Tim Pool’s analysis of the move.