YouTube started in 2005 and was bought by Google in 2006 – a far easier move for Google than trying to compete against it with Google Video.
YouTube encourages video makers by paying them money from ad clicks which appear next to their content.
YouTube is ranked as the second most popular site in the world by Alexa (behind google.com).
The problems with YouTube
- In 2017 over 250 brands pulled their advertising from YouTube because their ads were appearing next to extremist content including ‘Islamic state’, Combat 18 and Neo-Nazi groups.
- An article by Bloomberg showed that YouTube was prepared to ignore warnings about controversial and potentially dangerous content to meet an internal target of 1 billion viewing hours per day.
- A 2019 article in The Verge shows that YouTube moderators who review violent and extreme content for several hours every day suffer from mental health issues including PTSD and panic attacks.
YouTube Executives Ignored Warnings, Letting Toxic Videos Run Rampant – Proposals to change recommendations and curb conspiracies were sacrificed for engagement, staff say.
- YouTube was blamed to help spread anti-vaxxer conspiracies which led to major health concerns.
- YouTube has contributed to a growth of the flat earth conspiracies at the expense of scientific fact.
- Prominent videos on YouTube suggested bleach could cure autism and cancer.
- YouTube has been shown to be a breeding ground for right-wing hate speech and propaganda.
- Disinformation channels originating from Russia have had millions of views and ad revenue seemingly without any warning labels.
- Protesters took part in Operation Shutdown at Google’s London offices accusing YouTube of being too slow to remove videos about knife crime.
Note: These issues relating to YouTube content and moderation are mostly from 2019. This list could have been much longer if we had gone further back.
YouTube introduced the ability to live stream video directly on the site in 2011 but only initially with a select group accounts. In 2013 this was extended to accounts who have at least 1000 subscribers which was then reduced to 100. Mobile live streaming was initially for accounts with 10,000 subscribers which was reduced to 100.
In May 2019 a gunman live streamed footage on Facebook Live of a massacre in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Thousands of copies were uploaded to YouTube at a faster rate than they could be taken down.
YouTube and children
A damming New York Times investigation showed how family home videos were being grouped together by the YouTube algorithm to increase the time spent on the site by paedophiles.
YouTube’s algorithm was encouraging paedophiles to watch videos of partially-clothed children, often after they watched sexual content. To most of the population, these videos are innocent home movies capturing playtime at the pool or children toddling through water fountains on vacation. But to the paedophiles who were watching them thanks to YouTube’s algorithm, they were something more.Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, The New York Times
In the US, a coalition of 23 child protection groups has accused YouTube of collecting data and showing ads to children who were known to be under the age limit of 13.
“Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground.”Samuel Gibbs – The Guardian
In 2017 users of YouTube said they saw auto-suggestions of “s*x with your kids” and other variants after entering the phrase “how to have” in the search box.
YouTube was shown to host thousands of videos which appeared to be popular children’s TV shows which were altered to include violence imagery.
YouTube Kids app still showing disturbing videosBBC Newsround
In 2019 Nestle, Epic games and other brands pulled their advertising because paedophiles were commenting on videos featuring children adjacent to their ads.
YouTube got into trouble for allowing people to upload copywritten TV shows, films and music – taking first and not asking anyone’s permission is just what Google does so it’s hardly surprising.
Various algorithmic solutions have been implemented and touted including Content ID but with millions of videos uploaded every day it’s impossible to stop people from uploading cheap ass bad quality flash versions of classics which deserve better.
Many musicians have argued that YouTube should be paying more for the videos and music it distributes and not have tried to resist Article 13 from becoming EU law.
What can I do about this?
If you still have to use it…
- If you have to watch something on YouTube there is an ad-free, tracking free mirror of YouTube called Invidio.us – it doesn’t always work.
- Always use multiple ad blockers on your browser whenever you browse pages online especially when you watch a video either on YouTube itself or if the video is an embedded on another website – this will provide some protection from tracking
- If you have a blog or website with YouTube videos consider ditching YouTube or consider replacing embeds them with screenshots and warnings about the tracking which awaits the user should they choose to click through and will removing YouTube tracking scripts from your own site
- Write to your elected representative and ask them to pressure your local or regional government to not to use YouTube to promote government services, including staff time – your taxes should not be funding Google.
- Tell brands who advertise on YouTube you will buy from competitors unless they stop paying for ads on the site.