What Went Wrong With… YouTube, Advertising, & The Suppression Of Free Speech?

A parody of the YouTube logo by What Went Wrong Or Right With...? for

YouTube is slowly becoming the most mediocre place on the internet, gradually transforming into a dull, sanitised version of itself. The internet was supposed to be free, free from censorship and a place to encourage free speech and freedom of expression, and this ethos extended to YouTube, whose tagline until 2012 was “Broadcast Yourself”. After YouTube’s “Broadcast Yourself” slogan was retired, the company became geared toward mediocrity. The phasing out of this catchline now makes more sense because today you’re no longer allowed to “broadcast yourself” since “yourself” is what you think and what you desire, the very essence of “you” and “yourself” is now lost. Forget making videos about what you want and letting people with similar interests watch them, today YouTube wants you to be a self-censoring, watered-down version of yourself. And YouTube can pretty much dictate who, when, and what they want because currently, there’s no real alternative to the video hosting giant.

YouTube is the world’s biggest video-sharing website and for all intents and purposes, the second biggest search engine in the world. That gives them a lot of power, as a company without much competition they hold a monopoly on video content, and they’re getting better and better at hiding or discounting anything that doesn’t follow the status quo. If you’re not mainstream you’re relegated to the arse-end of YouTube, if you want subscribers and views you’ve got to appeal to the broadest section of society but that makes for a horrid construct that favours banality over originality. Say what you think other people want to hear rather than say what you think people should hear. People love certain celebs for example, so if you make a video about how they’re all awesome, you’ll move up the ranks, say that they’re fucking twats and you’ll be penalised not only for your opinion but also for your profanity. But this topic-related suppression has gone much further in recent months.

At the end of March, it was widely reported that many companies including GlaxosmithKline and Toyota suspended their contracts with Google saying that YouTube allows their advertisements to appear alongside “controversial” videos. Some of the top US advertisers including AT&T, Verizon, and General Motors stopped advertising on YouTube because of this very issue, boycotting the second largest search engine because they didn’t want to align their brand with “hate” videos.

There were complaints by numerous clients that their content was appearing alongside “extremist” videos. AT&T said in their statement “We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate”, but surely people from all walks of life use AT&T’s services? Someone might use AT&T to call someone and yell abuse at them, maybe some terrorist uses AT&T’s fiber connection to plan an attack, maybe a member of the KKK uses their AT&T cellphone to call their friends and organise a cross-burning, why does AT&T care what video their advert appears next to? In all likeliness the person watching a video promoting “terrorism and hate” agrees with it, surely that’s one more potential customer. A telecommunication’s companies’ target audience is everybody, why discriminate against bigots and killers?

It was almost laughable how these huge companies with dodgy pasts were complaining about how their brand was being affected by associating with certain videos. I mean back in the day, didn’t General Motors’ Alfred P. Sloan, the President, chairman and CEO of the company have connections with the Nazis? Didn’t senior executive for General Motors, James D. Mooney, receive the Grand Cross of the German Eagle for his distinguished service to the Reich? In Sloan’s Wikipedia page it reads “Nazi armaments chief Albert Speer told a congressional investigator that Germany could not have attempted its September 1939 Blitzkrieg of Poland without the performance-boosting additive technology provided by Alfred P. Sloan and General Motors”. With this kind of historical association, where does GM get off saying it doesn’t want to associate with “hate” and “extremism”?

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline joined the YouTube ad boycott saying “The placement of our brands next to extremist content is completely unacceptable to us”. That’s rich, a company is complaining that its brand might be besmirched by being near a random video on YouTube, but wasn’t their company’s name tarnished a little more when they were told to pay $3 billion in fines after pleading guilty to healthcare fraud in 2012? A company with all these controversies is worried that a few thousand people might glance at their ad on the side of an amateur-looking “controversial video”? Piss off!

The first time I ever heard about this issue was when The Daily Mail’s front page showed a story about Google being accused “of profiting from hatred”. And yet if you view this story on Daily Mail’s website, their example is an ad for The BBC’s “The Last Kingdom” next to a Neo-Nazi video with a whopping 2,220 views…

BBC advert on YouTube

…but really, if you were one of those 2000 people who came across this video would you instantly begin to associate the BBC with Neo Nazis? No. Most people never even notice the ads anyway, they’re like white noise these days, and I doubt that any person is idiotic enough to think that a company like the BBC actually approves of every single video their ad appears next to. Common sense perhaps?

Good sense and gumption was thrown to the side by YouTube however, instead they bent to this bullshit story. Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler wrote in a Google blog post that “we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content”. Some if not all these words however are open to interpretation; something “offensive” to one person isn’t “offensive” to another. Should a particular person or company decide what’s “derogatory” and what isn’t? The Hollywood Reporter even described this situation as “distasteful videos” in their article. But surely “taste” is subjective, and therefore being distasteful is based on the under or over-sensitivity to certain topics or points of view. For instance, some prude could say a word like “twat” is offensive, someone taking the word literally could say it’s derogatory, but surely context and frequency changes how this word is interpreted; genitalia, misogyny, or simply a synonym for “idiot”. Regardless of perception and stance however, YouTube decided to obey their advertisers and water-down their already watery site.

Online, this story was transformed into an argument over profits, it was reported that certain YouTube channels saw a drop in their revenue, some saying that their videos had been de-monetised. For me however this wasn’t about money, it was all part and parcel of the slow erosion of free speech. I personally couldn’t give a fuck about some rich YouTube hipster who makes money from their channel, people who make thousands and millions from YouTube now netting less bucks is no big deal to me… oh no they’re not making as many greenbacks as last year, no more $500 beard grooming products I guess. For me this was a distraction, this wasn’t at all about high-profile YouTubers losing money, this was about suppressing certain points of view. The issue remains that if you say something out of left-field, something that isn’t mainstream or state-approved you’ll get passed over for something that toes the line.

Money is the main way the West suppresses free speech, if they can’t ban you, they’ll take away your earnings. In a society that favours monetary gain over anything else, hitting you in your wallet is a great way of forcing you to conform – make content like this rather than that and we”ll reward you financially – twisting the arm of content creators until the internet is filled with mundane, vapid bullshit.

Dumbed-down content is the main thing YouTube promotes these days and it’s getting pretty evident that if you make throwaway humdrum crap, you’ll move up their rankings. This fucked up situation is obvious when you look at YouTube’s homepage or homescreen, whether on a web browser or an app, the front page of YouTube these days only shows the most mediocre, bland shite. Videos with lots of views but little substance.

Back to the issue of billion dollar advertisers, I should point out that it’s YouTube’s own algorithm that places adverts on, before, or near videos, this isn’t the fault of the content creator or the advertiser, it’s a flaw of YouTube itself. In addition, it’s YouTube that recommends channels and videos to you based on your viewing “habits”, and these two aspects show how YouTube is coercing and controlling its output.

As a little experiment (that’s not scientific in any way) I cleared the search history and cookies from my YouTube app. Then without logging in, I looked at the front page of YouTube, it contained all the mainstream crap I’d expect; channels from Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, Catch Up On Late Night, The Daily Aww, Try Not To Laugh Challenge, Funniest Vines, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Beyonce – Topic, Eminem – Topic, Drake – Topic, and Chris Brown – Topic.

Then after searching and viewing a few music videos and trailers I started watching a couple of alternative media channels including “RichPlanet” and “RedSilverJ”, I then went back to the home screen. I assume because RichPlanet and RedSilverJ contained a few conspiracy theories in their videos, I was suddenly confronted with YouTube’s recommendation and suggestions, and these included videos titled “Jesus Knew About HAARP!”, “The LGBT Agenda”, “PizzaGate Update”, not to mention crap about the Flat Earth and some general anti-Semitism. Now if you watch some of RichPlanet and RedSilverJ’s videos, nowhere are they racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or for lack of a better term mentally ill, and yet YouTube decided (based on some shitty algorithm no doubt) that instead of watching sane videos from a couple of free-thinkers, I should instead focus on hatred, bigotry and idiocy. I’ll also point out that the obligatory “Catch Up On Late Night”, “The Daily Aww”, “Eminem – Topic” and channels for pricks like Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars were still present, just because they want you to be homophobic or anti-Semitic, they wouldn’t want you to stop cooing over cute animals and listening to mediocre Pop music.

This for me was quite telling, I watched a couple of videos about conspiracies that weren’t offensive in the slightest, but I was then coaxed into watching videos that would tarnish the conspiracy community. So, with the news story that advertisers didn’t want their ads on “extremist” or “controversial” videos, why was YouTube trying to make me watch the very videos advertisers were complaining about? Why would YouTube favour inferior monetised videos over better quality, sometimes non-monetised videos that wouldn’t have a. offended me and b. offended advertisers?

On a side note, another thing I’ve noticed in regards to “controversial” videos on YouTube, is that if you type in any search term which includes the word “conspiracy” or the words “conspiracy theory”, around 80% of the videos are now by some annoying bloke called “shane” with his tally of 9,475,772 subscribers. Over the last decade or so I’ve noticed the slow disrupting of conspiracy theories and unorthodox opinions by covertly co-opting these topics and changing them to either right-wing hate, nonsensical garbage, and now a bland mainstream overview of them. YouTube has basically gone from this arsehole…

Alex Jones on YouTube

…to this one…

Shane Dawson on YouTube

…over the space of a few years. It says a lot about YouTube that they’ve gone from promoting a right-wing sellout like Alex Jones to now promoting a middle-of-the-road, teeny-bopper-esque lame to be the face of conspiracies. They will never and have never recommend someone like Richard D. Hall though, and that’s very fishy indeed. I’m sure that the irony of hi-jacking conspiracies isn’t lost on YouTube.

Outside of conspiracy theories, I’m sure that there are other topics which have been taken over by certain people or certain groups to transform said topic into something different from its original intention or viewpoint. If you can make a certain kind of person or literally one person into the figurehead of an opinion or a movement, you can easily control it, mould it, and even destroy it. YouTube has become very efficient in making a mockery of certain ideas and suppressing others, COINTELPRO anyone?

Parallel to this suppression and takeover, the over-promotion of mediocre “Top 10”, “Compilation” and other mainstream videos has made for a very middle-of-the-road site. YouTube today is the main source for centrism and conformity and if you obey, don’t rock the boat, and fall in with the rest of the YouTube herd, you too can make some moola from your vids. It’s strange to me that people can’t see that this is tantamount to censorship however. Say this and get no revenue and less subscribers, say that and we’ll give you cash and build your followers. Sounds like hush money and corruption of free speech to me.

What I also don’t understand is the widespread culture of banning something rather than letting different types of people watch, read, and listen to what they like. If you don’t like or agree with the viewpoint of a video on YouTube, it doesn’t mean it should be banned or have its advertising taken away. If you don’t like it you can comment on it, you can give it the thumbs down, if all else fails you can click away or close the page. Unless an individual is calling for violence against another individual, nothing should be banned, regardless of how wrong you might think it is. They have the right to broadcast hate and you have the right to give hate right back, that’s the essence of free speech (and also the point of this website). Advertisers also need to get a grip; they need to realise that their ads are so shite that everyone clicks away after that 5 second intro period, the crappy square ad on the side of the video is also insignificant, nobody gives a shit where these ads appear, we don’t even notice them most of the time let alone start equating their brand with the title of the frigging video.

On the topic of forbidding certain content, last year YouTube banned a “propaganda” channel created by North Korea, not because of its content, not because of the fact that the country is a Dictatorship, or because it’s oppressing its citizens, oh no. They banned it because North Korea would make money from YouTube’s advertising programme and this isn’t allowed with the current U.S. sanctions against the country. It’s quite ironic that an Eastern country known for censorship has been censored by the West, not on the grounds of morality but rather money. Ahh, the good-old-western art of suppression.

It’s widely known that countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea currently block access to YouTube, but the way things are going, the way it’s becoming sanitised and more conventional by the day, these three countries might want to reconsider. Give it time and there won’t be anything on YouTube that offends anyone, there won’t be any video of any description unless it pleases its advertisers, the state, multi-national companies, or Google CEOs. Soon there won’t be anything on YouTube but cute animals, shitty lifehacks, and James pissing Corden‘s Carpool Karaoke.

Down The Tubes.

9 replies »

  1. There is a youtube channel currently named “TJ Kirk” who has been an active personality there for just under a decade. His previous username was “The Amazing Atheist,” but after this brouhaha started, Youtube started showing less advertisements on his videos because, you know, atheism is not the majority, therefore many disagree with it, so advertisers consequentially didn’t want to associate their company with him. This dude, who had been a contributor to the platform for 9+ years, was literally being told that he had to rebrand his channel to make a living, so that it why he had to change it to his name.

    Shit it fucked up!

    • Why, don’t you like him?

      I watch a lot of channels on YouTube that are entertaining, RedSilverJ/TeamWakeEmUp is one of them. When he takes the piss out of people with that whiny tone he puts on, it’s hilarious. Plus he talks about conspiracies without going down the contrived left/right path, he stays pretty consistent in terms of his point of view.

  2. Yeah!
    I have started some of his videos today. He is a very insightful person. His takedowns of Bernie Samders and Jill Stein were pretty good. Wow Bernie Sanders had nearly everybody bamboozled!
    I was too busy focusing Hillary Clinton’s corruption that I completely forgot about Sanders’ corruption. It is now starting to really make think: Is Jeremy Corbyn a puppet as well?

    • One YouTuber suing another isn’t exactly the same as the systematic suppression of free speech/lessening of revenue by big companies like Google. Overturning or winning a Fair Use case isn’t going to fix the proscription of free speech on YouTube.

  3. Everyone back in 2009 (Almost 10 years ago, now I feel old) who said that Google was going to ruin Youtube was 100% on the money. That’s really when the decline of Youtube began. It became less about sharing videos and more about advertisements, marketing, and monetized videos. This was also right around the time that Alex Jones and the conspiracy theorists began popping up all over Youtube and eventually turning it into a right wing conspiracy hell hole.

    Those mediocre “Top 10” videos you mention are either done by monetized big names of the site, or corporate big names who have official accounts on there. Youtube slowly became more corporate over the course of time. I still remember when you could actually search Youtube and get good results. Now, any search always comes up with the corporate links first and unless you really filter something, you’re going to be spending some time digging through the results (and still might not find what you’re looking for). The golden age of Youtube died the minute Google bought it.

    Cheers for the good article.

  4. And now YouTube “creators” tried to have “beef” with a company’s channel (T series) for more subscribers? Also, I really hate “clickbait” channels which just lure you to an ad. YouTube is a former shell of itself. Popular opinions like “Eminem is dope” are the ones that get “likes” and “teh views” while unpopular ones like “Eminem is wack” by youtube creators like Shooky Jones are shunned and called trolling and hating. People change their opinions for monetary gain on youtube.

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