There are no heroes in YouTube’s new ‘YouTube Heroes’ program

Once again YouTube are at the centre of controversy over what’s best for them and what’s best for users, but this time they want to make you the bad guys.

YouTube have launched a new initiative called YouTube Heroes that hopes to make you, the YouTube user, into what is essentially a free employee for perks. YouTube have been having trouble keeping all the millions of hours of video content on their site “advertiser friendly” so to make sure they can profit they want YOU to clean up the world’s biggest video hosting site.

This all harks back to an unannounced decision by YouTube last month that led to a large number of videos, new and old, being removed for “inappropriate content”. The reason? They wanted to make sure that all their content is advertiser friendly; in other words – “we care more about appeasing businesses than creating a happy environment for creators and viewers.” Not an actual quote FYI

What deems the content inappropriate is apparently objective and means anything involving:

  • Nudity or sexual content – fair enough, a lot of kids use the site it’s not Pornhub.
  • Violent or graphic content – well again fair enough if it’s real violence, but where do we draw the line? Do special effects/fake dramatised violence count? YouTube becoming vague…
  • Hateful content – Of course no-one should be subject to abuse but what constitutes hateful content is different to YouTube than normal people. Would a criticism count as hate? Are we allowed to say anything negative or must it be explicitly malicious? Parody videos have been a harshly censored medium for this rule.
  • Spam, misleading metadata, and scams – Fully supportive of this one.
  • Harmful or dangerous content – “Don’t post videos that encourage others to do things that might cause them to get badly hurt, especially kids.” Again fair enough obviously, but we don’t know where the line is. YouTube have been enthusiastic in blocking borderline content that many would deem okay, but creates a chance that they’ll make less money due to the nature of the content.
  • Copyright – Incredibly important but we all know by now that YouTube’s copyrighting systems are broken, right? They’ve improved a lot recently but are still the cause for a lot of grief.
  • Threats – This one is also fair, though good luck trying to clean up the YouTube Comments sections from threats and hateful content.

Whilst most of these categories make sense it’s the extent to which YouTube will bend these rules to make sure that every piece of content is sellable to advertisers. This leads to a lot of blurred lines and a lot of subjectively unfair takedowns. In addition YouTube dropped these regulations on users without warning meaning many users who had videos up from over the years, involving elements of this content when it was allowed, were retrospectively punished.

Now back to YouTube Heroes. The new Heroes program gives you incentive to be that one kid in class who always reminded the teacher the class had homework. It sets you up to moderate all the content you come across, report anything you see which might not follow the rules and, most horrific of all, collect points for each action.

“As a YouTube Hero, you’ll help other people and become eligible to receive great perks, like access to exclusive workshops, and sneak preview product launches.”

The tasks for YouTube Heroes include tasks that I think will improve the platform, such as captioning/subtitling videos which for deaf users or the hard of hearing is massively positive and something that could never be done en masse by YouTube themselves. Their priority however seems to be encouraging users to find content that comes under their “Non-advertiser friendly” categories and flagging them.

Essentially YouTube want their user base to moderate their content for them, inevitably leading to power complexes, unfair takedowns, and as far as I’m concerned a split in the community that is already falling apart thanks to “YouTube Drama“.

As far as I’m concerned the point-earning system is the step that takes it too far. Giving incentive to your users isn’t wrong, but giving them mostly valueless incentive to remove videos creates an unhealthy precedent. Rewards include early access to new features, access to exclusive workshops, potential to go to YouTube events. It’s nothing major but will no doubt be enough to convince users to get trigger happy with their flagging.

We’ll have to see how long this lasts and how much it will impact on YouTube but we’re calling it now: YouTube Heroes will not be a success, and will most likely be a disaster. Let’s see…

Head of Social Media and Marketing, RouteNote

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