The YouTube Desert
Demonetisation, strikes, and bans threaten to render YouTube's environment hostile to creators
In August this year, YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, called for revisions to YouTube’s already present policy preventing ‘creator-on-creator’ harassment. Her efforts aim to limit harassment and bullying on the platform from creators targeted at other creators. Wojcicki says she takes it “very seriously when creators share stories of [them] experiencing harassment on [YouTube]”, and promises that YouTube will up its game to make sure that harassment doesn’t happen in the first place.
2020 saw the return of popular American commentator, Calvin Lee Vail, a.k.a. LeafyIsHere, to the platform. The nature of Vail’s commentary videos were often comedic and criticising in nature, often gaining him a reputation as toxic from those who felt angered by his commentary on the YouTube climate. Yet, after fewer than 150 days uploading daily on his channel, Vail woke up one morning to a text message from his friend and fellow American YouTuber, Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, that read, ‘your channel has been suspended’, and a ban on his account prohibiting him from accessing his channel and posting videos.
On an August 23rd, an episode of DramaAlert - a YouTube show hosted by Keem - featured Vail in an interview regarding his ban. In the interview, Vail said his channel was banned for harassment after he made 12-13 videos featuring thumbnails Pokimane in comprising and offensive positions. Despite having her face in the thumbnail of these videos, the actual content was innocent: focusing on the economy and the stock market. It’s clear, however, that Vail was attempting to provoke Pokimane in his videos by targeting them at her, an action which YouTube didn’t take kindly to, causing YouTube to ban his channel for ‘targeted harassment’ in lieu of their updated policy.
Vail claims the ban was surprising, yet predictable given the nature of YouTube in recent years. “I had one [strike], but I had no strikes before that”, he mentioned on DramaAlert, “YouTube is just really weird like this.” For YouTube to remove a channel as massive as LeafyIsHere overnight and without warning is sneaky and dishonest to not only Vail, but to other creators on the platform.
The purpose of Vail’s channel, he claims, is comedy. The late-night kind that’s enjoyable in a mean and fighting-dirty kind of way. But if this type of comedy is no longer permitted on YouTube - and channels who utilise the form are banned abruptly and without much warning - what sort of content is allowed; or, if LeafyIsHere’s content was so terrible that YouTube had to ban the channel, does bring the bar of what’s acceptable one step closer to other creators in the YouTube community?
Lewis Spears, an Australian comedian on YouTube, produces content similar to Vail’s that pokes fun at other people not in spite, but purely to illicit laughter - harmless banter. On his podcast, he expressed his concern over Vail’s ban, questioning if the ban puts his own channel at risk. He described his anxiety of waking-up one morning to discover that his channel, his full time job and source of income, has been taken away without prior warning.
Vail has since moved his content and fan base over to live-streaming platform Twitch, abandoning YouTube’s bureaucracy.
And gaming channel YouTuber, Markiplier, who aims his content at children and teenagers, received a strike from YouTube for content he uploaded back in 2016, four years prior to YouTube’s new policies. Markiplier was angered that his strike was done manually, meaning that an actual YouTube employee took the lengths to mark his content, and this was not simply the error of an automatic system scanning the site for errors. Only after his video gained attention did YouTube decide to remove the ban, apologising that the ‘accidental strike’ was given.
While this turned out okay for Markiplier, he was still concerned about YouTube’s new tendency to choose what is allowed.
On the contrary, Vail’s account has remained banned despite gaining attention and even media coverage. It is likely to stay that way.
So, who gets to choose, then, what content is allowed on the site? What does the future hold for creators on YouTube’s 70 Billion dollar platform? That’s all up to YouTube. It’s all dependent on Wojcicki, who has gained the reputation as a tyrant against creative freedom.
In a 2016 interview with Bloomberg Technology, Wojcicki was asked about her thoughts on YouTube as a platform. “If you have content and you want to get it out to everybody, YouTube is a great way to do that,” she said in support of creators.
But, in 2020, the problems faced by creators on the site proves YouTube is not as friendly to content creators as it once claimed to be.
None of the images used are owned by me*
Bloomberg Technology. 2016. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on Studio 1.0 (Full Show 11/13). YouTube. Accessed September 15, 2020. https://youtu.be/jTlWTMWI1pY?list=PL534GCv-51VWcXlmYeb3KaptsPdXu9maW
DramaAlert. 2020. LeafyisHere INTERVIEW! #DramaAlert. YouTube. Accessed September 6, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bE6dXmGY-wA
Markiplier. YouTube just Gave Me a Strike… . YouTube. Accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0K6r1hoD7I
Spears, L. 2020. LeafyIsNotHere, Listener Bribes a Plumber and Gets Charged – SS209. Spotify. Accessed September 7, 2020. https://open.spotify.com/episode/5JsBenpU6gbDAEDEn3RPVY