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Nerd City & Other Creators Call Out YouTube Bots for Demonetizing LGBTQ+ Content

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  • A group of YouTubers said they have worked since June to compile evidence that certain words or phrases within video titles lead to automatic demonetization by the platform’s machine learning program.
  • As a result, those YouTubers also claim the platform’s bots are routinely demonetizing LGBTQ+ content.
  • A day after the videos documenting this evidence were posted, YouTube directly responded to them and said that “the right teams are reviewing your concerns in detail,” also promising to follow up on the claims.

YouTubers Create Monetization/Demonetization Word List

In a series of videos released Sunday, a group of YouTubers detailed 15,000 keywords that they tested against YouTube bots and claimed many of those words—including some LGBTQ+ terms—lead to automatic demonetization.

Particularly, the project looks at those keywords and determines whether or not each caused a video to be demonetized when used in the title of a video. The research, which was conducted from June to July, was a collaboration between creators Nerd City, YouTube Analyzed(who does not work for YouTube), and Sealow. 

“Robot law enforcement on YouTube just resulted in two years of gay people being treated like it’s the 1300’s,” Nerd City said in his video.

The report, published as a Google spreadsheet, classifies words in one of two categories: green meaning monetized and yellow meaning demonetized. However, YouTube Analyzed said the way monetization is decided is more like a 0-1 scale. 

Thus, certain words near the middle of that scale might be green one day and yellow the next. To provide context, he placed an asterisk next to words that yielded mixed results.

To create the list, they uploaded two-second clips they said had no demonetizable audio or video. Then, they experimented with keywords, replacing demonetized words with “happy” or “friend” to see it if that would monetize the video.

As such, they found a grab bag of results. For example, “antivaxx” sometimes resulted in demonetization, but never “antivax” or “anti-vaxxer.” 

Additionally, “North Carolina” was demonetizable but not “North Korea.” YouTube Analyzed actually explained this by saying that if a word has too much negative association with it, the bot might be prone to flagging the word. He argued “North Carolina” might have been flagged because news surrounding transgender bathroom laws made headlines in July as he was compiling the list. 

Other words like “restaurant,” “you,” “sunglasses,” “photos,” “profit,” and even “Shrek” reportedly caused their videos to get demonetized. 

While more expected terms like slurs, cuss words, and other words like “Hitler” were also flagged, other controversial words like “incel” and phrases like “how to murder” weren’t demonetized. YouTube Analyzed suggests, unlike the “North Carolina” example, if the bots haven’t seen a word or phrase used enough, they might not catch it.

LGBTQ+ Video Demonetization

The creators also found that common LGBTQ+ terminology tended to be demonetized, and some media outlets have called this project the most conclusive evidence that YouTube is demonetizing LGBTQ+ videos.

Again, however, the system yielded highly variable results. For example, “gay” was demonetizable, but YouTube Analyzed noted the word is context-sensitive. The term “lesbian” was sometimes green but “lesbians” was always yellow. Also, “transgender” was monetizable but not always “trans.”

Additionally, the word “homophobia” was ad-friendly, but not “homosexual,” while terms like “straight” and “heterosexual” were both always green.

Some of the titles they tried included “Lesbian princess” andKids Explain Gay Marriage,” a reference to a Jimmy Kimmel skit posted on YouTube. Both were demonetized but later monetized when replacing “lesbian” and “gay” with “happy.”

As to why these videos are being demonetized, Sealow posits a couple of possible reasons. The first is similar to the “North Carolina” example where, politics and negative press could influence certain words. In the case of LGBTQ+ content, bots could interpret certain terms negatively if they are regulating a high number of homophobic or hateful content.

Sealow also worries that if videos with words like “gay” are manually demonetized by people with biases, then bots will also develop the tendency to demonetize those videos regardless of the content.

According to Nerd City, YouTube is possibly outsourcing some 10,000 workers from a company called Lionbridge, which employs people from a number of countries that have anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including Somalia, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. 

He then asks: if there’s no standardized policy in place for LGBTQ+ content could reviewers keep a video demonetized based on their own bias?

It is unclear how many workers—if any—are from those countries or if such a bias is actually being taken into account; however, former workers with Lionsbridge have reportedly complained of unclear guidelines. 

Past Accusations Against LGBTQ+ Creators

Some YouTubers like Petty Paige have now resorted to censoring words like trans and homosexual to stay monetized, and a wide range of LGBTQ+ creators have called this trend an open secret.

In December, Mexican YouTuber Lusito Comunica asked YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan about this directly, saying three of his videos with LGBTQ+ titles were demonetized.

“I can just tell you categorically that there is no list of words or keywords or terms or anything like that that is going to go into our classifiers making an apriori decision on whether our videos are monetized or not,” Mohan said. 

“There’s nothing in terms of how our monetization algorithms work that should be based on any kind of predescribed or predetermined list,” he continued.

In his video, Sealow refutes that point, saying, “Given our testing results, it’s made clear that these comments are not accurate.” He notes that while the current situation for LGBTQ+ may be improved from two years ago, most would still call it unacceptable.

He also said he finds Mohan’s comments troubling because as CPO, Mohan has the power to fix this problem.

Later, in August, Alfie Deyes posed a similar question to YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki. 

“We do not automatically demonetize LGBTQ content,” she said. Then, later adding, “There’s no policies that say if you put certain words in the title that that will be demonetized.” 

Deyes then reiterated his question, asking if any words specifically from the LGBTQ+ are flagged, to which she says, “There shouldn’t be.”

Nerd City then focused on the word “policy” in his video, saying Wojcicki lied by omission. 

“It’s sneaky language from a very smart woman who talks to a lot of lawyers,” he said. “There’s no policy to demonetize gay words, but there is a protocol where bots are doing exactly that.”

Also in August, a group of YouTubers sued the platform and claimed among other things, that YouTube is demonetizing their content. 

In 2018, YouTube took steps to expand its reviewing process, adding those previously-mentioned 10,000 workers to combat what Wojcicki called bad actors,”or people who attempt to exploit the platform’s monetization system. Those “bad actors” are actually part of why YouTube says it hasn’t released its algorithm data.

YouTube’s Mystery Algorithm

The report represents an attempt to better warn creators about why their videos may be demonetized, but demonetization involves other factors, as well. As they continue to attempt to learn more about the mysterious algorithm, that list changes every day. 

Because of that, all of them note the information they presented is not necessarily complete. Nerd City has argued that YouTube should publish details on how its algorithm works, saying more openness could allow creators to make more money because they would then be able to see what does and does not get monetized.

He also deconstructs the “bad actors” argument, saying people would just report misleading content anyway.

Notably, the FairTube Campaign is urging YouTube to at least send creators a reason why their specific videos were demonetized, that way they can then learn and take steps to make sure future videos are ad-friendly.

YouTube Responds

Monday, the YouTube Team Twitter account respond to this series of videos, saying, “Wanted to let you know that we’ve watched your video and the right teams are reviewing your concerns in detail. We want to make sure that we give you some clear answers, so we’ll follow back up when the teams have been able to take a good, hard look.”

Later, a YouTube spokesperson then released a statement saying there is no list of words that deem a video not ad-friendly. 

“We’re proud of the incredible LGBTQ+ voices on our platform and take concerns like these very seriously,” the spokesperson said. “We do not have a list of LGBTQ+ related words that trigger demonetization and we are constantly evaluating our systems to help ensure that they are reflecting our policies without unfair bias.”

That spokesperson also said YouTube tests samples of LGBTQ+ content when there are new monetization classifers to make sure LGBTQ+ videos aren’t more likely to be demonetized.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (INSIDER) (Mashable)

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Meghan Rienks’ Channel Hack Highlights YouTube Support Issues

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  • For two months, YouTuber Meghan Rienks has been struggling to get YouTube Support’s help to recover her hacked vlog channel.
  • After several confusing email exchanges with the company that presented her with no real solutions, Reinks said she only began to see more helpful and rapid responses when Shane Dawson and Gigi Hadid spoke up or offered their own connections.
  • Rienks said she spoke on the phone with YouTube on Wednesday and learned she may not be able to get her videos back. She also said that she worries about smaller creators who are left with even fewer options when they have issues with their channels.

Rienks Battles with YouTube After Hack

After months of battling with YouTube to regain access to her hacked channel, YouTuber Meghan Rienks said that a call with the company revealed that she may not be able to get her videos back.

On Tuesday, she confirmed via Twitter that YouTube agreed to talk over the phone. The sudden help from the platform came just one day after she posted a 45-minute video detailing the company’s disappointing response to her vlog channel being hacked in January. That call, however, did not go in the direction she was hoping.

She posted on Twitter that the call “wasn’t great.” On a Wednesday night Instagram story, she told her followers that she would likely lose the content she had on the channel, some of which is a decade old.

Her problems with YouTube’s support stem back even further than this phone call. Rienks’ Monday video starts with her explaining that in October, she realized her main channel was not appearing online for viewers, despite it looking fine from her end while logged in. Solving this with YouTube took roughly two weeks. During that time, they had back and forths where they told her nothing was wrong with her channel. 

The company eventually realized they had been looking into her vlog channel instead and had also sent her the wrong link to solve her main channel issues. During this time, she did notice a suspicious upload on her vlog channel but kept that on the back burner so she could focus on her main channel. 

Her vlog channel came back to the forefront on January 2, when Rienks realized it had been fully hacked and rebranded. Her videos were gone, and even though the channel still had her URL, it was now called “Beauty Dior” and has new logos and images.

The page was now full of several newly posted videos, all of which appeared to be re-uploads of beauty tutorials which she suspects are also stolen. On top of that, the email she had associated with the channel was deleted, preventing her from recovering it and regaining control of the account.

Exchanges With YouTube Continue For Two Months

Rienks reached out to YouTube the following morning, thinking this would be an easy fix seeing as the hacking was very obvious. Instead, it led to a series of seemingly empty-worded exchanges between YouTube, Rienks, her manager, and others on her team. In some emails sent from YouTube, Rienks was not even included and had to be kept in the loop via her manager.

In one, the YouTuber support person addresses the email to “Alex.” However, no one involved in these communications is named Alex, or even a name remotely similar to Alex. Rienks stated multiple times that she felt she was not in contact with a real person. 

Substantial news did not come from YouTube until February 22, when YouTube told Meghan they found no signs of abnormal activity on the channel. When she followed up, emphasizing that the channel had been fully rebranded, they maintained their findings in a grammatically messy email. 

“Hi there, thanks for your reply. I understand why you’re wondering that the investigation resulted that no highjacking activity happened on the channel,” they wrote. “However, I can assure you that our internal team carefully investigated this and didn’t found any.” 

They advised that she increase her password and account security, a measure she had actively been taking on all of her channels and social media accounts since the original incident in October.

Rienks Takes to Twitter

The next morning, she emailed them at 9 AM to request a phone call so she could guarantee swift, immediate contact with a real person. She also hopped on Twitter to express her frustrations.

At around the same time she sent her email, she shared YouTube’s response alongside proof that her account had been clearly hacked on Twitter. She also said she had seen a substantial loss in subscribers on the channel since January. 

While those posts gained a decent amount of traction when she uploaded them, they blew up when YouTuber Shane Dawson shared one a little after 2 p.m. Dawson mentioned several YouTube Twitter accounts in his message, which included a plea for help.

Just 45 minutes after Shane sent his tweet out, Rienks saw action from YouTube. She received an email saying that phone support was not an option, but her case was now being marked high priority. She also began direct messaging Team YouTube, which led to more confusing back and forths.

After initially claiming that YouTube had looked into her main channel instead of her vlog, an excuse similar to one give during the first situation in October, Team YouTube they were “not sure why [internal teams] came to that conclusion” that there was no abnormal activity on her vlog. They assured Rienks that she had been in contact with real people at YouTube, and apologized for the delay in solving her problem.

“I am sorry you had to take to twitter to get more help with this,” one of the messages read. “That shouldn’t be the case at all.”

Around the same time, another well-known face slid into Rienks’ DMs –supermodel Gigi Hadid. Hadid, who is a follower of Reinks, told her that she was sorry about her situation, and had a friend at YouTube who could be able to help. 

“This is the only time that I’m getting help,” Rienks said frustratedly in her video. “Is when Shane Dawson and Gigi Hadid help me. Thanks guys.”

On this day, Beauty Dior was still posting content on her channel. She also noted she saw that the account was being sold on a site for $500.

Rienks’ Frustrations with YouTube

While Rienks was recording her video, she got an update from YouTube. 

“The email YouTube just sent is that I can have my channel transferred over to me, I just have to agree to not sue them,” Rienks explained. “And also, I can’t have any of the videos that were privated. Which is all of them.” 

She spoke to her attorney about the email, who said that nothing in their message to her contained a legal document or legally binding clauses. 

“This is a failed system and it’s not working,” she said, explaining her overall anger about YouTube’s response. “And also through all of this I found, if it’s not working for me, it is not working for so many creators who have much smaller channels.” 

In the description of the video, she further expressed that while she wants her channel back, she also wants larger-scale change at YouTube. 

I want a meeting at Youtube. With REAL HUMANS. With the ‘people’ who run the support team & *personally* investigate hijacked channels,” she wrote. “Because it is a broken system and it needs to be changed. I know this is a long shot, but this has been happening for far too long, to far too many creators.”

“There’s no way that Youtube has coded & built software to pickup on less than 10 seconds of skewed pitch copyrighted song, yet they’re still unable to accurately verify a compromised channel,” she added. “This needs to change.”

When heading to Rienks’ vlog channel today, viewers can still find it as Beauty Dior.

Update: This article was updated from its original form to include new information about Rienks’ phone call with YouTube.

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An Activist Hedge Fund Wants Jack Dorsey Out as Twitter CEO. Could That Change the Site?

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  • Last week, it was reported that conservative activist investor Elliott Management had purchased over $1 billion in Twitter shares, or about 4% of the company.
  • Now, Elliott Management wants to replace Twitter’s co-founder, Jack Dorsey, as CEO. 
  • This is largely viewed as an attempt to boost Twitter’s stock, which has been underperforming since Dorsey reclaimed his CEO position in 2015.
  • According to Fox News, a Dorsey ousting by Elliott Management could “raise the prospect that some of the changes to Twitter could make the platform a friendlier place for pro-Trump users.”

Hedge Fund Plans to Push Dorsey Out of Twitter

Twitter employees took to the platform Monday night in support of CEO Jack Dorsey after it was reported that an activist investment fund was trying to unseat him.

Last week, the fund known as Elliott Management announced it had bought roughly $1 billion in Twitter stock. According to Business Insider, that’s nearly 5% of the company and also enough to allow it to pressure Dorsey out of his CEO role. 

Elliot Management wants to oust Dorsey for a number of reasons, but perhaps the most significant reason is that Twitter is underperforming. Dorsey previously served as CEO of Twitter until being fired in 2008. He then returned in 2015. Since then, Twitter’s shares have fallen by 6.2%. Facebook, by contrast, has gained more than 121% in that same timeframe.

In November, Dorsey also announced that he’s preparing to move to Africa for 3-6 months this year.

That’s on top of Dorsey already splitting his time between Twitter and Square, Inc., where Dorsey is also CEO.

Elliott Management’s main argument here will be that a full-time CEO would be able to devote more time to the company to help raise its stock value and grow the company. 

This, however, isn’t the first time someone has announced a plan to oust Dorsey. In fact, such a move seemed bound to happen because unlike Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Snap Inc. CEO Evan Spiegel, Dorsey does not have voting control of Twitter. 

In December, New York University marketing professor Scott Galloway penned a letter calling for Dorsey’s removal.

“As of 12/6 I am the direct and beneficial owner of approximately 334,000 shares in Twitter,” Galloway said. “To be clear, my primary objective is the replacement of CEO Jack Dorsey.”

Weak governance, a part-time CEO, relocation to Africa, damage to the commonwealth, and poor returns,” he added. “Stakeholders deserve a board and CEO that command the opportunity Twitter occupies.”

Could A Dorsey Oust Make Twitter More “Trump Friendly?”

The reasons why Elliott Management is trying to push Dorsey may not stop there. 

The hedge fund is owned by Paul Singer, a conservative billionaire mega-donor. In 2016, Singer donated $24 million to Republican and right-leaning groups. 

It is possible, as Fox News points out, that Elliot Management’s increased presence within Twitter could, at least in part, ease conservative’s concerns that Twitter has a left-leaning bias. 

Elliott Management’s stake “[raises] the prospect that some of the changes to Twitter could make the platform a friendlier place for pro-Trump users. ”

Last year, California GOP Representative Devin Nunes filed a $250 million lawsuit against Twitter and several users. In that lawsuit, he accused the platform of “shadow-banning conservatives” and hiding their posts. 

#WeBackJack Trends on Twitter

Following all of this, many Twitter employees supporting Dorsey in his role as CEO posted stories of their interactions with Dorsey using the hashtag #WeBackJack. Later Monday night, that tag began to trend. 

“I’ve worked [for] many major corporations,” one user said. “Never did the CEO take 3 minutes to talk with me 1:1. Jack did (more than 3 mins might I add) & he didn’t treat me like someone below him. Ppl speak highly of him in rooms he’s not in. He’s not pretentious or egocentric. So yea #WeBackJack”

Telsa CEO Elon Musk also offered his support for Dorsey on Twitter Monday night, saying Dorsey “has a good [heart].”

Elliott Management Nominates Four Directors

While Elliott Management has not yet ousted Dorsey, it has nominated four people to Twitter’s board of directors.

Notably, there’s only going to be three seats available at this year’s annual meeting, but Elliott Management reportedly wants to ensure that it nominates enough people to fill all three seats and any vacancies that may unexpectedly arise. 

Elliot Management’s move to remove Dorsey comes in the face of several major events including the worsening situation with the coronavirus, U.S. presidential elections, and the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

Those events will likely attract more users to the site and could, in turn, drive more advertisers, thus increasing the company’s stock value.

Twitter, however, has fallen behind other social media platforms despite its widespread use. Reportedly, it has decided to focus on its core services even though other platforms have added features such as filters and stories.

It is unknown if a Dorsey ousting could change that policy as Twitter’s board of directors tries to increase its stock value.

See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (Business Insider) (Fox News)

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Pokémon, Star Wars & Candy Crush: How DLCs & Microtransactions Changed The Gaming Industry

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While DLC’s (downloadable content) and microtransactions are a commonly accepted practice in the gaming community, they are also still highly controversial. Some lawmakers around the world have even condemned these types of business models, likening them to child-targeted gambling. In the United States, Republican Senator Josh Hawley has proposed a bipartisan bill that would ban a type of microtransaction in games aimed at minors. 

The topic of DLC’s and microtransaction is also a hot topic among fans, with many saying that while these features can help a game, a lot of times, they feel like companies abuse these practices. We want to know: What are YOU, as a consumer, willing to pay for?

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