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Published April 22, 2024

YouTube must continue to pay controversial creators, clarify guidelines

The social media site could do more to ensure its users can discuss contentious topics.

A recent controversy over which videos are allowed to be monetized on YouTube was brought to light by Philip DeFranco, a prominent member of the YouTube community. In a recent video titled “YouTube is Shutting Down My Channel and I’m Not Sure What To Do,” DeFranco expressed his frustration over his discovery that nearly 40 of his videos had been demonetized, meaning he would no longer be paid a share of the cash YouTube receives from advertisements on those videos. The decision was spurred, according to DeFranco, because YouTube decided his videos did not meet their standards.

DeFranco speaks on a number of controversial topics, such as the case of rapist Brock Turner, and conflicts between police and the Black Lives Matter movement. But he is just one of many who use the website as a platform to discuss the relevant social and political issues.

Sometimes these content-creators espouse opinions that many would find deplorable, without much room for disagreement.

DeFranco, however, states that he wishes to create a space where viewers can discuss issues he brings up; he promotes conversations that address multiple perspectives, not just those that he agrees with. For many, YouTube’s new guidelines appear to be a form of censorship.

The aspect of this controversy that is most unsettling is the fact that YouTube, according to their “Advertiser Friendly Content Guidelines,” does not allow creators to monetize videos with “controversial or sensitive subjects … even if graphic imagery is not shown.” This is as specific as the guidelines get, but the phrasing is vague: what constitutes controversy? What makes a subject sensitive? And why are some videos left up while others are taken down?

There are numerous problems associated with limiting the discussion of controversial topics on monetized media. While YouTube hasn’t removed DeFranco’s videos after they were demonetized, barring creators from making money off of their videos can stunt their ability to generate meaningful discussion. If creators are not able to profit from videos that address controversial, difficult news stories, there is less incentive to produce them. While more impassioned channels will persist, the message this policy sends is clear: Talking about sensitive subjects is something to avoid if you want to be financially successful on YouTube.

YouTube is a top choice for millennials who are looking for perspectives on information; for older generations, the nightly news on television was just as influential. Both mediums engage us. If YouTube chooses to limit payouts to creators for broaching controversial topics, they limit the unique opportunity their website has to create a place of dialogue and understanding.

Further, if YouTube demonetizes some videos with controversial language or opinions, they must do a better job specifying where the line is. If they choose to ignore the millions of viewers who watch DeFranco each week, and the millions more who view channels similar to his, they’ll quickly loose the respect of their audience and most popular YouTube personalities. 

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