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YouTube (Google), demonetization and censorship

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Offline kat

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YouTube demonetization isn't censorship

Googles latest video demonetizing and account safeguard updates to YouTube isn't censorship so much as the consequence of a long-standing, and arguably perhaps, poorly realised business decision to make the platform as secure (in the sense of being 'verified') and "advertiser friendly" as possible, especially in light of big money threatening the potential loss of billions of dollars. Google has to pay attention, whether the users like it or not, more so when some of the names associated with the projected loss are part of new services YouTube instigates, like YouTube TV.

YouTube has always reserved the right to demonetize content it deems inappropriate or simply just because the video is not a good fit for the advertisers using their platforms. This has always meant the more generic and 'harmless' the content, the better the monetization opportunity because a much broader spectrum of advertising can be run alongside or associated with the material. YouTube has more or less always operated this way, certainly since the Partner program was opened up; YouTube creators and publishers have always uploaded content with full knowledge their videos can be demonetized, and/or pulled in extreme cases. It says as much in the Creator/Uploader Agreement (§7 and 8).

With that said, damage control with regards to the demands of Big Brands in the short-term does make easy pickings of controversial content, actions that don't specifically mean YouTube itself is targeting 'right' (politically 'right') leaning content due to its directional bias, rather as a result of the contents nature, its subjective sensitivity, something YouTube has always been jittery about (KatsBits for example has a couple of demonetized videos dating back to 2008, almost ten years ago, because the videos didn't fit contextually the adverts being displayed at the time; annoying, yes; censorship, no).

This is not to say however, that a certain clique of busybodies aren't using the opportunity, scurrying around YouTube using and abusing the reporting system as a means to 'harass' ("it's not harassment when we do it") and 'deplatform' ("it's not censorship if its 'hate'")[1] people they don't like, the controversial nature of whom/which make this type of petty behaviour pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel.

To be clear, this cohort of malicious miscreants are politically motivated, are engaged in censorship[2], and often successful not because they are correct but as an indirect consequence of the controversial nature of content being flagged; as Content Creators have little recourse to dispute the claims or reports made against them in this context (notwithstanding Copyright claims), there's little they can do at present to counter the witch-hunters extraordinaire. And that only emboldens them further, winning, not through better arguments, but by being vociferously belligerent with their subjective claims (this is perhaps one area that YouTube could improve the system - if content is taken down the person making the claim has to verify their claim in some way, similar to the requirements of making Copyright Claims).

[Edit] It should be noted that in spite of the above, that YouTube aren't engaged in censorship, the consequences of demonetization are very real, many a popular YouTuber that's gained ground over the last few years is loosing significant income, often to the extent that it obligates a serious rethinking, or their having to shut their channels down. This fact further emboldens bad-faith actors abuse of YouTubes reporting system as a tool in their misguided political activism.

For YouTube Creators and Publishers there are, as yet, no comparably viable solutions to income generation from video publishing because few platforms have advertising in place let alone a monetary reward or sharing system (even where advertising is available, revenue share is not). For fans and viewers it becomes increasingly impractical to support all the authors previously engaged with on YouTube through crowd-funding outlets or directly through the likes of PayPal et al.

It is perhaps not without a good dose of irony that a move to help 'diversify' YouTube as a platform, one that makes it more 'open' and 'family friendly' is doing the opposite to some of the more popular channels.

Further Reading
- Illegal Hate Speech, the EU and Tech.
- Freedom of speech ends where threats abound.
- Developers and self, voluntary, censorship.
- Being ignored: silencing at SXSW.
- Twitters Trust & Safety Council and "free expression".
- Twitters "Ministry of Truth" Trust & Safety Council.
- Free Speech & Expectations of Privacy on Social Media

[1] "deplatforming" (sometimes referred to as the lesser "disinvitation", or "no platforming" in the more grammatically correct UK) is a tactic often used by special-interest individuals and groups that denies those subject to such calls to action the ability to freely engage with others. As such it fundamentally interferes with the principles of freedom to speak, to freely pass unmolested, etc. It also denies others freely exercising their will (agency) to listen to someone else, even those with whom they may disagree. In this context "denying the right...", to listen, or the "right to not hear" have no bearing on the Individual Right to Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Expression; Individuals cannot deny someone their Right to speak/express simply because they don't like, or don't want to hear, what they might have to say. Furthermore, the "Right to Speak", the "Right to be heard" and the "right to listen" are not synonymous, they have different meanings and importance in Law, for example;

[1a] The "Right to Speak" is a protected Human, or 'great', Right (e.g. Article I Bill of Rights [info], Article 10 [alt] of European Convention on Human Rights [alt], UK Human Rights Act §12 etc.).

[1b] The "right to be heard" is generally considered either a "procedural guarantee" often associated with Government or Institutional service provision (e.g. Article 41 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which might in practice mean a disabled person being heard with respect to services they receipt or are entitled to). Or a 'minor right' typically associated with the "UN Convention on the Rights of the Child" that guarantees minors the 'right' to express opinions and views on matters that affect them.

[1c] The "right to listen", or rather the "right not to listen" is a argument often cited by those in social science circles rather than Law professionals (where it is, its typically argued as a 'negative right'). In that sense it is a pseudo-intellectualism rather than a principle in law. As it is neither a capitalised 'Right', lower-case 'right', an entitlement or privilege in any sense, legally, legislatively or procedurally. It cannot be considered anything other than a 'thought exercise', one that perhaps seems based upon misinterpreting current Law, the Rights of Individuals, and the circumstances around which it might be used argumentatively - whilst the Individual is not obliged to listen when others speak, they cannot impinge the speakers Right whilst attempting not to listen. Conversely the speaker cannot force, coerce, obligate or otherwise compel others to listen unless that person does so voluntarily, and without infringing the listeners Right(s), ostensibly to be free from harm and able to freely go about their business unmolested (recognised typically as the right 'to peacefully assemble', to do otherwise risks infringing the Rights of others).

[2] In this context using YouTubes content flagging system constitutes the "deplatforming" ("de-platforming"), "no platforming", "disinvitation" et al of others and are all means though which a person may directly or indirectly behave or move against individuals using threats, abuse, harassment, intimidation of any kind etc., implied or otherwise, that interferes with their free expression as a Right. As recognised in Law our Rights do not grant us permission to act against others in any way that might impinge their "Life, Liberty and the[ir] pursuit of Happiness", to borrow from the Declaration of Independence.