▶Problems with YouTube

This essay originally appeared in my newsletter, Zoom in, Zoom Out! Subscribe to learn with me how YouTube is changing the world - https://hemantrjoshi.substack.com/

Over the past few years, with the rapid changes the internet has seen, YouTube has been under pressure to evolve. The spread of fake news, hate speech and violence has become very easy. At the same time, with the stiff competition coming in from the likes of original streaming platforms (both audio and video), YouTube is losing its biggest assets – creators. Creators are moving to other platforms, and those that stay are complaining about the burnout caused by creating content constantly.

The YouTuber is finding it hard to earn a livelihood off of YouTube.

A shaky YouTube, with all its problems

Image – A shaky YouTube

Here’s a deep dive into some problems YouTube faces and where it needs to innovate to curb these.

Copyrights

Copying music and videos on the internet is extremely easy. YouTube adds to this menace, as anyone could upload any content they want, and potentially monetize it, stating it is their own content. It is hard to protect the income of millions of creators on YouTube. If not done well, this could lead to rampant piracy, which would lead to a drop in creators’ income, thus decreasing YouTube’s content, which would decrease YouTube’s revenue.

At the same time, big brands and publishers can sue small creators for innocently using parts of their IP. A company like T-series can sue a small-time creator for uploading a video that has a song playing in the background. Even though the creator was not intending to put the music into the video, they have no choice but to take down the video as requested by T-series.

This is complicated by different regulations in the EU and the US, where YouTube is based. In 2018, the EU approved Article 13, which protects the creators’ interests. As a part of this law, you cannot use original content for creating spin-off videos, parodies or criticism. Things get dicey here since YouTube argues that its algorithms are not yet smart enough to detect what is fair use and what is copyright infringement. Some companies have historically been ultra-sensitive when it comes to letting other creators use their IP, which has created problems for YouTube.

This is a huge problem that is not going away any time soon. How YouTube deals with it will be interesting to monitor over the next couple of years.

Creator burnout

Creators on YouTube are burning out. There have been debates around whether the YouTube algorithm highlights recent videos, which means the more videos you produce, the more likely it is going to be recommended to users, thus increasing its chances of being viewed. For independent creators, falling sick for a few days could mean that their income tanks by a fair bit. There is no paid leave, no medicare, no paid-time-off. If you are a creator on YouTube, you are on your own.

With the increasing number of creators on YouTube, if you as a creator stop making videos, you will lose your relevance and will soon be taken over by someone else.

YouTube says that it “spends a lot of time thinking about this topic.” It argues that if a creator has found an audience once, it is easy for them to find an audience again, but the reality is that losing relevance doesn’t help creators.

YouTube says that the engagement of a video is more important than the video’s age. But whether someone can make an income to sustain their lives by uploading fewer videos to the platform is an unknown.

Some experts argue that YouTube should be a thought leader in this space. It arguably has the most number of creators as a platform. But so far, we haven’t seen any concrete data validating that the company is doing something to cure the problem.

Creators are leaving

This has become a template for creators – start a YouTube channel, gain a significant number of followers (let’s say 1 million), then go sign deals with other platforms for producing content for them. In India, this has happened with companies like TVF, which are producing more shows for other platforms. With the flux of content platforms, content is slowly moving off of YouTube. We’ve seen this trend with other apps stealing YouTube’s place in music or categories like web series where it is easy to upload videos on other sites.

Short-form content is moving to Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok. With the launch of its video platform, Facebook made some waves a couple of years ago. For creators who depend on social media for their bread and butter, moving to other platforms provides added social benefits, which YouTube doesn’t have. It is easier to view a video while you’re on Instagram itself, as against clicking a link that takes you to the YouTube app to play a video. Creators are facing problems because of rapid and frequent changes in the way the YouTube algorithm prioritizes content.

But it looks like YouTube is trying to solve some of these issues. They’ve launched subscriptions for creators and added social features. I’m confident that YouTube has already solved this problem to a fair extent.

Curbing the spread of fake news

This is not specific to YouTube, but to all the social media giants on the internet. With YouTube, since anyone can upload anything, spreading fake news is very easy. In 2019, the company created a new policy that banned videos surrounding hate speech, but implementation is still a work in progress.

The company employs thousands of moderators who go through videos and take down anything that violates its policies. With YouTube’s scale, which can touch billions of users every month, human moderation of every video is not practically possible.

For machines, a lot of content can hover over the borderline, which compounds the problem. Relying entirely on users to report bad videos is not a solution too. In a lot of cases, you need to stop the spread of a video before it reaches even a few users. With its focus on driving more engagement for its videos, the YouTube algorithm might, in fact, enable the rapid spread of fake news. The spread could go undetected unless it reaches a huge scale.

Conclusion

YouTube has huge problems to solve, not just for itself, but for the internet. But if YouTube can solve some of these problems, it will be a leader in this space, thus providing guidance to other companies too.

I firmly believe that despite the scale of the problems it faces, YouTube is best positioned to solve these problems for its creators, consumers, and advertisers.


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