YouTube has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was founded when I was five, I began browsing the site when I has seven, and I had become an avid user by the time I was ten. YouTube is one of the largest forms of media that I have grown up alongside, and I have watched it evolve greatly from a very young age. Therefore, I am incredibly interested in seeing how it, and its creators’ relationship to it, has evolved from objective and other analytical points of view, instead of just from my own.
The demonetization of YouTube videos has become a widely talked-about issue very recently; from what I saw, it started gaining traction in 2016, and is now a commonly discussed topic in many videos and among many creators. I first heard of this issue through music and movie review channels, where Fair Use was not being properly enforced, and many YouTubers saw their videos unfairly flagged, demonetized, and removed. Nowadays, however, the issue of demonetization has spread from the critical community’s issues with copyright claims, and now affect almost all of the site. Many of the creators I regularly watch will even mention it as a reason they decide not to do things or why they are hesitant to talk about things. For example, nowadays, some movie critiques will be demonetized if they are overtly negative, instead of just because of any copyright claim issues.
I think, particularly with gaming channels, there are a few interesting trends that I will be able to effectively examine. The first, and most important trend, is that of the content. When gaming channels first started, the most popular ones played mostly horror games like Slender, Amnesia, Silent Hill, and the like. The more jumpscares and reactions, the better; casual viewers came to see gamers exaggerate their reactions. This kind of gaming video hit its peak popularity, it seems, with Five Nights at Freddy’s, but soon afterward, the most popular channels began playing a much more conglomerated assortment of games; viewers came for the force of personality on display, instead of just the game or to see reactions to jumpscares. I think that this trend could be indicative of a movement away from more mature subject matter and into matters more palatable to the general public. Much like television and movies, YouTubers have done their best to make sure their target audience is as wide as possible, and generally do their best to stay away from things that YouTube has shown it will consistently demonetize.
There are certainly videos and channels that do deserve to be demonetized: PewDiePie’s scandal comes to mind, as well as Daddy O’ Five’s channel. However, there have also been many instances of widespread unfair demonetization, for example, the seemingly universal flagging of any video that had any references to any sort of LGBT identity or people. These examples are troubling, as they indicate that YouTube has both the ability and the willingness to restrict free speech on their website, by calling certain issues “mature” and age-gating them, which automatically demonetizes them, forcing YouTubers whose content focuses mainly on those topics to change their videos or stop using the site, if they cannot get another form of income.
I am very familiar with outright censoring; most of my extended family lives in China, where sites like Facebook, Google, and YouTube that promote the free dissemination of information are completely blocked by the government. Thus, my interest was piqued when I heard about the demonetization of videos that contained “sensitive” or “politically controversial” topics that did not actually, in my opinion, deserve to be demonetized, and I am excited to further look into this topic..