#YouTubeIsOverParty: Will YouTube’s latest change destroy the platform?

Fans and creators have taken to social media to proclaim that YouTube is dead, but are their fears justified? 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Broadcast yourself. YouTube deleted this pithy slogan from its logo in 2012, but if the sentiment didn’t die then, it has now. Creators and fans alike are up in arms about YouTube’s “Advertiser-friendly content guidelines”, which can be summarised like this: Broadcast yourself. Provided you don’t swear, say anything sexual, or even mention war.

But despite the furore yesterday when the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty trended on Twitter with over 174,000 tweets, these guidelines – about which content YouTubers can and can’t monetise with Google AdSense – aren’t new. A YouTube spokesperson revealed that the policy of de-monetising inappropriate content has existed for a while, but they’ve “recently improved the notification and appeal process to ensure better communication”.

What this means, in essence, is that after a spate of notifications from YouTube on Wednesday, YouTubers have suddenly become aware of the reasons some of their videos aren’t making money. In the past, according to American YouTuber Phillip DeFranco, creators would have to delve deep into their analytics pages to discover this, and therefore most were unaware when their videos had been blacklisted. “They would just look at their AdSense and be like ‘Wow, why did I make such little money on this video?’” he says.

DeFranco, who runs a Monday through Thursday current affairs show with 4.5 million subscribers, has labelled the policy “censorship”. But by tying their guidelines up in their monetisation scheme, YouTube have played a clever trick. The platform isn’t censoring YouTubers, but has instead devolved the decisions to them. Put simply: if they want to make money, they will have to censor themselves.

The policy is essentially a giant swear jar. When a creator sits down to make a video, they will weigh up whether or not a casual F-bomb is worth the lost income, and will more often than not probably decide it isn’t. Beauty guru SprinkleofGlitter spoke out yesterday about the pressure YouTubers feel to remain child-friendly, and this will surely only be exacerbated by these changes. If then, as many fans fear, YouTube becomes a happy hub of swear-free, sexless, smiley faces, the creators themselves will be complicit.

The other option, of course, is a mass exodus. But unless some clever developers swoop in right now, YouTubers currently have few comparable websites where they can create and monetise video, and most will be reluctant to lose the subscribers they’ve built up over the last decade. So what is going to happen? In reality, despite the hashtag, probably very little at all.

Although adverts on YouTube videos were the first way creators began earning from the site, over the years many have found additional sources of income. The money that can be earned by working directly with a brand and making a sponsored video or personalised advert often far outweighs that made via AdSense. London vlogger Hannah Witton tweeted yesterday that “Adsense is the smallest slice of my income pie”, and a San Francisco talent agency revealed earlier this week that famous YouTubers charge an average of £143,000 for a single sponsored video. The largest YouTubers also earn money from their own merchandise and books.

Better yet, the policy has actually opened up ways for YouTubers to make more money. Brands desperate to seem “cool” will align themselves with YouTubers who refuse to follow the content guidelines, as phone skin company dbrand did by sponsoring Phillip DeFranco’s video yesterday. As well as this, YouTubers can actually appeal any demonetised videos, and so far YouTube has been overturning most of their bans.

Creators and fans, then, have little to worry about, and the one YouTube has hurt the most with its policy is itself. The site doesn’t just host vloggers and cat videos, but is also home to mainstream news platforms and official music videos. The latter almost always contain sexual content, and the former will have trouble following the fifth guideline, which prohibits:

“Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.”

Big brands may therefore flee from YouTube, and place their videos on their own websites, or be open to using new video-hosting platforms. But beyond this, YouTube has made itself look incompetent by imposing a blanket ban instead of simply allowing advertisers to opt in or out of which content they want their adverts to appear on. Interestingly, if you begin to type the hashtag #YouTubeIsOverParty into Twitter, it doesn't autocomplete, leading some to speculate that Google and Twitter are collaborating to hush up the controversy. In this environment, were a viable YouTube alternative to actually surface, YouTube itself is actually pushing creators towards it.

The most subscribed channel on YouTube belongs to PewDiePie, a Swedish video game commentator beloved by 8-year-old boys. He swears, a lot. He even teaches his subscribers to swear in Swedish. In YouTubopia, its advertising guidelines would mean fewer children exposed to swearwords but the same amount of money earnt by the platform and PewDiePie. But kids love PewDiePie precisely because he swears, and advertisers in turn love PewDiePie because kids love him. In reality, "adverister-friendly content" is actually the most controversial, because it is the most watched. If YouTube's policy does implement real change, then absolutely no one will benefit. 

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh