Tuesday, December 09, 2008

YouTube censorship

So, YouTube have announced changes to some of their policies regarding the content of uploaded videos. Many in the mob are screaming "censorship!" and technically they're right. It does qualify as censorship but it's hardly new - YouTube has always placed restrictions on what they regard as acceptable content. It hardly seems like the end of the world to me and I'm even hopeful that one or two of the changes might actually improve the site.

Breaking it down, YT seem to have two main goals. First is to randomly generate the thumbnail for videos to fight what's commonly referred to as "thumbnail cheating" and second is to remove or at least demote the more "adult" content from the "most viewed" etc. lists of videos.

The change to thumbnails isn't going to generate a significant outcry. For those who don't know, prior to this change, YouTube chose the exact centre frame of video to represent that video as a thumbnail. Once you knew that you could edit your video in such a way that you controlled what would appear in the thumbnail. People have been complaining for years that showing boobies (or the suggestion of boobies or something similar) automatically grabbed a huge number of video views and many high profile YouTubers were accused of gaming the system.

I know from my own depressing experience that this works. My most viewed video was one where I exploited this. Horny desperadoes who were fooled by the hot babe in the thumbnail and/or the deceptive description were instead lectured by me on the perils of excessive masturbation. Two millions views later I wonder why I bothered. That statistic is really depressing to someone who puts a lot of effort into most of their videos (my highest views for non-thumbnail cheating video is about 300,000). It will kind of suck to not be able to choose how a video is represented (a grey blur does not attract many viewers) but if it stops the boobie thumbnails I guess it's kinda worth it. [update: I've noticed YouTube is giving the opportunity to upload a specific image as the thumbnail but they threaten to cane you if you break their guidelines]

The demoting of "adult" content is where it gets interesting. One of the main ways to get your videos seen by new and/or casual YouTube viewers is by appearing on one of their "Most..." lists. If your video is "flagged" as inappropriate then you don't appear on these lists (or the video may be removed altogether) and so your video is likely to get viewed less overall. Admittedly, this has a bigger effect on people who are already reasonably popular. YouTube hasn't said they'll be deleting more videos but they have said they'll be broadening their definition of "adult" and any videos identified as such will be removed from the listings.

The fact that prominently displayed boobie cleavage and booty shaking will disappear from the "most viewed" videos will be a massive relief to most YouTubers. By "most" I mean those not blessed with nubile female bodies that can attract crowds simply by parading around while scantily clad. There, I'm jealous, I admit it. Also to fall under the hammer are videos dealing with sexually explicit topics. No more hot blondes giving instructions for the perfect blowjob appearing on "Most viewed videos".

YouTube have also decided to demote videos with excessive profanity. Oh fuck. Several people have sent me messages asking "Won't this affect you?" To which I have responded "Derrrrrrrr!" After thinking about it for a while, I'm not hugely bothered by this so long as YouTube only "demotes" swearing videos and they don't remove them entirely. Me saying "shut the fuck up" 20 times in 60 seconds may not be the most suitable viewing for children.

There is no shortage of people shrieking hysterically about this. By and large, they are fucking idiots. The drama queens calling for mass boycotts crack me up. "I'm leaving YouTube," they wail, "join me and we'll teach them a lesson." Fucking idiots. If this is a step too far censorship-wise for you then refusing to participate in the site any longer is a perfectly valid choice. But for the love of the baby Jeebus stop being such a fucking drama queen about it. Go. Do it. Stop fucking talking and clamouring for attention and GO!

Go ahead. Leave. You know what the effect will be? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Fuck all. Those hundred people who say they're joining you? They're lying. They don't give a fuck and they'll come back to YouTube simply because it has the videos they want to see. Even if they're telling the truth and they never come back, the effect on YouTube would be zero. The number of people who would give a shit if I packed up and left is statistically so close to zero I may as well have never existed. For fuck's sake, Fred (the number one subscribed person on YouTube) could leave and that would barely be a blip on the radar. The site would continue without noticing and other people would take his place.

So please, all the people proclaiming their outrage at these changes: get your hand off it. I mean it. If you pull your (metaphorical) cock any harder you'll rip it right off. Take whatever action you think is right for you but do me a favour and shut the fuck up about it. Nobody gives a shit. To paraphrase Yoda: "Do or do not. There is no pointless shrieking like a whiny little bitch."

The one thing that concerns me is the likely abuse of the flagging process now that YouTube has broadened what content will be flagged as "adult". This doesn't bother me because of any new standards, it bothers me because of YouTube's established track record. Essentially there is a parade of fucking idiotic decisions in their past and I would expect this to get worse, not better.

To clarify, this isn't about me. Almost none of my videos have ever been flagged (maybe two or three). But I have seen flagging decisions in the past that simply beggar belief. YouTube claims that someone on staff reviews all videos flagged by viewers and only takes action if they decide the video truly breaches their guidelines. Given the number of times I have seen videos flagged that definitely DO NOT breach their guidelines (YouTube later agreed and changed the decision) there is one of two conclusions to draw. One is that YouTube is lying and they don't have any comprehensive review process. Two is that they employ complete fucking morons to fulfil this role.

YouTube NEVER respond to the community. Not even to say "No, you can't have that." But if they were going to listen, I'd like them to respond to these suggestions:

  1. Explain EXACTLY how the flagging review process works. How many flaggings are investigated each day? How many staff are employed to do this?
  2. Develop and publicise a review process for flaggings. Tell people who believe their videos have been unfairly flagged exactly what steps to follow and what response they can expect in what timeframe.
  3. Give Partners the benefit of the doubt. Give them someone they can go to directly if they feel they've been unfairly flagged. If they're willing to put their partnership on the line over it then listen to them!
  4. Give registered over-18 users the option to see flagged videos in the "Most..." lists. Preferably with the ability to filter (e.g. I want to see profanity but not boobies)

Actually, all my suggestions to YouTube always come back to one thing: would you guys PLEASE fucking communicate with us?

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