The 2017 Youtube Advertising Fiasco – Where From Here?

In what is being billed as Youtube’s largest crackdown ever, a recent bout of bad mainstream press has forced the website to do a major overhaul of its day to day operations (in terms of funding its creator base). Having been a heavy user of the site for a couple years now (at least as a viewer), I have seen archival and current first hand accounts of the platform going though bouts of politically correct madness every few years or so. However, despite this latest phase only being maybe a week old, the latest bout is said to be the worst, barring NONE.

First off, some background.

Internet companies and social media networks have long faced issues over advertising placed against objectionable content. But it’s grown into an loud chorus of protests in the U.K. over the last few days, after the Guardian reported that it had discovered some of its ads on YouTube had appeared with such content as videos by American white nationalists, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; a hate preacher banned in the U.K.; and “a controversial Islamist preacher.”

http://variety.com/2017/digital/news/google-apologizes-youtube-ads-hate-speech-videos-uk-1202012040/

In a word . . . oops. Something obviously slipped though the cracks. Unsurprising really, when your dealing with terabytes of data uploaded daily. A non-issue of Janet Jackson and #Nipplegate proportions.
Unfortunately though, this oops had consequences. The first was from the advertisers themselves. Not wanting to be even ACCIDENTALLY associated with god knows what, many companies, governments and advertising agencies alike have dumped Youtube and Google ads altogether. And many are in no hurry to come back, concerned that google has not fixed the issue.

However, the consequences do not stop there.

The enormous financial cost to Google has resulted in a huge financial burden to the creators of the site, many of which claim that they will be lucky if they only see a 50% decrease in earnings. As the statement eludes, if this policy has any longevity at all (I don’t see it going away anytime soon), many creators will have to make some tough decisions going forward.

Then there are stories like this one from David Pakman,  which seems . . . very suspicious.

An initial reaction (for someone unfamiliar with the David Pakman format) may be skepticism. Some mysterious advertiser sends a message of being unable to show ads on his (and his friends!) channels and content. Convenient!
Not so fast.
Having watched the channel for some months now (largely as a replacement to TYT), while The David Pakman Show is like many of its youtube counterparts, its beyond the online realm. Though its revenue sources are mainly from online driven avenues (now $0), its also broadcast on a number of television AND radio stations in the US.

Yes, so is Alex Jones. But unlike Jones and others like him, David is a trustworthy journalist. Someone I look up to as an example to follow, and someone that puts to shame many in the (right now, anyway) more popular traditional news category.
Indeed, that may come off as biased. But you shouldn’t be swayed by the thoughts in an opinion blog anyway.

Go to his channel and judge for yourself.

This Youtube mess has thrown many into crisis mode. Being the shady nature of how this whole mess started, I do have empathy for those involved. Having the income source of your livelihood become a dribble of what it once was OVERNIGHT would be a kick in the crotch to anyone. And it is disheartening to see increasingly inportant non-traditional sources of news (David Pakman, Secular Talk, TYT, even some podcasts!) become neutered. During the TRUMP presidency, of all times!

One thing that I can not say however, is that this was not entirely unforeseen. At least a year ago, I heard the so called Youtube Bubble referenced in at least a couple videos by at least 2 YouTube ranters (The Arch Fiend and Someguy867, I believe). Even back then (these may have been old videos even a year ago!) advertising money was starting to dry up, and they warned the obvious . . . that the payday will likely not last forever. Not an unreasonable prediction, given that Youtube in itself is a giant money pit for Google (being the garbage can of the internet isn’t cheap!),  and Youtube’s increasing experimentation into ways of turning that loss around would likely only lighten the payouts further. However, I doubt many foreseen the spigot being ENTIRELY shut off, at least for selected categories of content (namely, anything that could in ANY way be deemed offensive, including current events).

I suppose that it remains to be seen if this is truly the end of youtube as it once was. Once this blows over (and assuming no disasters there after), the ad situation may change. What is important is that . . . we will see.

Now, the sticky stuff. Reasons for the clampdown.

It seems cut and dry. A traditional media driven exposure campaign on the websites advertising methods spooked UK and US advertisers to the point of actually pulling out of partnerships with the site.
However, it doesn’t hurt to dig even a little beyond skin deep.
While I don’t doubt that a small problem existed, what is happening to even the people that cover current events (online news media) is troubling. Particularly with the appeals process for fighting the actions apparently now removed entirely, its hard NOT to go a bit tinfoil.
Which brings to mind at least 2 possible scenarios (maybe 3). One, being that the purveyors of the traditional status quo are pulling strings. Two, Youtube is taking this opportunity to REALLY clean house and burst the YouTube bubble. Maybe some combination of the 2. Or I may be totally off.

Follow the money. Could Google be planning on selling You Tube to another (likely) media platform? If by sheer coincidence that ends up being the case . . . YOU HEARD IT (well, seen it) HERE FIRST!

In terms of ability to express ones opinion with little to no interference, YouTube used to be the gold standard of all social media platforms. Anyone with almost anything to say could say their piece, and even make money in the process. While half of that equation is now up in the air, the freedom of expression aspect is intact. That is, at least for the time being. If Google decides that its time for their largest platform to align more with the rest of the competition . . . then interesting stuff on YouTube may go away. And along with it, some excellent journalists and a number of different alternative platforms.

The reaction so far is . . . unsurprising. Creators mainly, are telling their audience to GET MAD. Let Google know that this is not what you want.

For me personally, while this turn of events is disheartening, my understanding of the infrastructure of the internet tells me that this is but par for the course. Basically, when you are playing in someone elses house, drastic changes in the rules of engagement may occur without warning.  You can protest and yell at (boycott?) YouTube and Google all you want . . . it will likely not make a difference.

True online freedom will not be achieved unless you can move beyond not just the corporate platforms, but also the advertisers. If television and radio is the comparison, then you want to be HBO or SiriusXM.

Despite this problem (a lack of platforms that allow pure free speech) being so wide spread, its also very easily remedied. Unlike the task of, say, adding a 2ed or 3ed ISP competitor to your town or city, the cost AND effort of building a standalone competitor for ANY current social media platform, is peanuts.

You would likely have to start from scratch. Servers, rental space for said units, broadband fees, site templates, all cost money. So you will be looking at an initial investment PLUS subsequent investments. All without ads (or without traditional web based advertising services, anyway).

I have floated this idea before. The topic of free speech in the online realm has been in the mainstream for quite some time now, to the point that it has become a profitable category in itself, alongside atheism, feminism/anti-feminism, etc.

Either way, the issue of being able to express yourself online has been blowing up for a long time now, but I always disagreed with what the typical stance seemed to be. Since various platforms of social media have now melded into the social fabric to the point of being a big part of the public discourse (many areas within these platforms have become  essentially a virtual public square), users want these areas governed as such. This idea is pursued in an almost Utopian fashion, with users of social media often simply demanding (or expecting) this of the service providers they utilize.

Its a great strategy if the goal is to hope for the best result with the least amount of work necessary (or simply virtue signal), but its ineffective in the real world. Yes, there is the TOS and the private property factor (social media platforms can do whatever they want!). But there is also the money factor. Both in terms of information gathered and advertising revenue, social media is a cash cow worth billions. With that much money on the table, I can guarantee that any voluntary action on the part of the platforms towards the goal of more expression rights is off the table.

Which is unfortunate in the case of a monopoly of digital services. But it is also not the end of the story. Were not talking about choosing between 2 terrible ISP’s or telephone companies, or between 2 terrible supermarkets.
Were talking about the internet. The wide open west (in every way, really) of the 21st century. Even if there is no options (or more, competition) in a given sector, there is nothing stopping anyone else from building an alternative.

Unfortunately, much like establishing a business in the real world, building something on par to compete with the heavy weight establishments of the internet also will not be cheap. Many factors must be considered in this process in this regard, one of them being privacy. Since advertising is out of the question (a barrier to true public speech and expression online), how to keep the lights on becomes a very valid question. If one wants to have a free service without ads, then it stands to reason that your usage and data is likely being utilized and sold off. If the platform is NOT using your data in this way however, then chances are users will have to chip in for their usage of the service.

Which then leads to questions of cost. In an age where pretty much all of the online public has become accustomed to NOT paying for pretty much anything, will you be able to overcome this status quo?
Costs will also  differ depending on the content of the platform (from minimal for mainly text and photos, to possibly astronomical for mainly videos).

Some have already tried to make headway in this area.

Some years ago (LONG before the recent advertising disaster hit Youtube and Google ads in general), a small youtube alternative called Free Speech Vids was in operation, created by a Youtuber of whom was fed up with YouTube’s then bout of censorship. Though the website was up for a number of months, it ended up shutting down after running out of funding (its creation and initial operation was crowd funded, if I remember correctly).
And more recently, a mobile app called Candid took up the challenge, offering both a totally anonymous and largely unregulated space for conversation that is only loosely organized. They ran into some hot water recently after they announced the usage of algorithms in order to better service users. While this drove many online into an angry frenzy (what doesn’t these days?), I hardly see the problem. Even if the change DOES tend to lump more alike minds together . . . people do this on their own anyway. And even without this becoming an excuse, the app platform itself by design, is not all that conducive to long form THOUGHT to begin with (being a smartphone app only).

Though people have indeed TRIED to skirt the regulated heavyweights of social media, the results are mixed, at best. Though I don’t know how Free Speech Vids was run, it doesn’t matter anyway since its long gone. As for Candid, while it seems to be good for its intended purpose, its not even in the same category as other mainstream platforms. Its differing enough for me not to even consider it a competitor to any of them.

For most (if not all) social media, there is little (if any) alternative to the status quo. Though hindered and bothered by this, even many free speech absolutists of all walks of life have previously seemed unwilling to entertain much more than empty arguments of utopia (“In an ideal world, . . . “). Despite many even going as far as calling themselves free speech warriors, I have yet to see an actual useful response to this problem that they claim to be so passionate about.

Now don’t get me wrong, the logistics involved in REALLY tackling this problem are not lost on me. While I focus mainly on the money in my arguments, I didn’t overlook both the time and effort that this task will take. It is bigger than me. It is bigger than most people in every way.

But at the same time, it is necessary.

One can keep on doing what has been done all along . . . bearing with it whilst making arguments about how things should be. Or we can start building, organizing and experimenting, with the distant goal being total independence from the current status quo system.

Though being able to say more or less what you want without interference is one thing (think Facebook, Twitter, etc), YouTube brings a whole new aspect into the equation. Though not all Youtube personalities are on the same level to me (news platforms are much more important than opinion vloggers), the revenue angle (or lack there of, as the case is) spares no one.
Despite the setback, many of these Youtubers had already been utilizing external ways of crowd-funding their productions anyway (Patreon, viewer memberships, etc). My attitude of Patreon in general tends to be not all that positive, being that I see it often propping up not just unoriginal (if not downright DUMB) opinion vloggers, but also creators that from my prospective . . . don’t create anything!
Be it top 10/15/20/25/30 facts ripped off from google, reactions, pranks . . . no.

Despite my hatred of Patreon and crowdfunding (due to what it could very well be doing to charitable causes that could use the cash spent by patrons to do genuinely good and humanitarian things), I acknowledge its place. While it is indeed an ATM for the previously untalented and unimportant, it also provides vital lifelines to good platforms like David Pakman, Secular Talk and others. Its necessary now, and may even continue being part of the long game later.
And most importantly, I am not an arbiter of what content should and should NOT be rewarded monetarily. If it is within the wide allowances granted by Free Speech absolution, than I am hands off. I wish the audience would have better taste . . . but as the Stones eloquently put it:

 

While this task is indeed VERY much an uphill battle, if taken on by the right people and given the proper attention that it deserves, its not impossible by any means. Though money is a big obstacle, I have seen a creator collect tens of thousands from fans to fund a lawsuit.

https://www.gofundme.com/TBRDefenseFund

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/08/19/youtube-atheists-sue-christian-film-company-over-multiple-frivolous-dmca-complaints/

Riding the wave of free speech hysteria, this lawsuit was billed as a fight on behalf of all creators. Something that we should find important if we want to continue enjoying the said content.
While I understand the reasoning (these DMCA’s are both unwarranted and often crippling to the receiving channels), I don’t accept that it becomes my problem as a viewer. Whether its a Youtube channel or a cable television station, what I watch is the product of a business. So just as I would not feel obligated to help a business to pay some lump sum for an unfair reason (I suspect it is a common occurrence), I don’t feel obligated to help Youtube creators overcome the problems within their chosen profession.

And even outside of this lawsuit, I have heard other platforms soliciting money to put into DDOS/DMCA Legal Funds.

If you REALLY want to consider yourself a small business, a part of the responsibility is this shit. Its not up to your patrons to keep your head above water!
Class action lawsuit. Creators union. A shared or personal platform legal fund which takes a given percentage of profits and puts them into a rainy day account just in case (imagine the wiggle room if all the creators established a common one!).
I don’t give a fuck how you solve it, don’t lay the buck on us.

The challenges faced by your chosen business are NOT our problem.

Moving on, that was a tangent from my intended point, which was that the money to make this (or more likley, many) alternative and less regulated online platform could easily be raised. Individual creators are already doing what they can to financially isolate themselves from the problematic advertising infrastructure of current. But this will always be a half measure. No matter how well crowd funded you are, your expression (and possibly your revenue) is still largely beholden to the owner of your chosen platform, and the sponsors bankrolling it.

Which means that now more than ever, we must make a decision.

Continue on the status quo of current, despite things likely only becoming more hostile for those with our values? Or break away from the corporate cookie cutter, and attempt to create a difficult (yet rewarding) long term solution?

It can be done. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. The only question that remains is, who will get the ball rolling?

This entry was posted in All Things Tech, Free Speech, Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

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