By Chris Zuver, Staff Writer
YouTube has become a widely popular platform for a variety of content. A seemingly endless number of channels exist that are monetized through Google—the corporation that owns YouTube—and their automated advertising system. Many of these channels’ owners are capable of their high turnout rate of content because of this revenue.
However, many videos from such channels have become de-monetized at an alarming rate in recent months.
A couple recent stories might grant us some insight on this significant trend.
On March 24, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Google’s YouTube Has Continued Showing Brands’ Ads With Racist and Other Objectionable Videos.” The article went on to show a screenshot of a video uploaded by a YouTube user known as GulagBear. The screenshot shows a Coca-Cola ad playing on a video with a racially-insensitive title.
Ethan Klein, a member of the duo operating as H3H3 Productions, a channel on YouTube, was one of the first to speak up about this article in a video he released, as the video’s statistics were not accurately reflected in the article.
In the video, Klein claims to have contacted the user GulagBear to ask about these claims. GulagBear was happily obliged and revealed extensive data about the history of their uploaded video and its monetization.
Klein reports in the video that, according to the records, the video-in-question had been uploaded on June 29, 2016 and had become monetized on September 1, 2016. Yet, the monetization had stopped days later due to YouTube’s automated filtering system for what is deemed “offensive content.”
The screenshot in the WSJ article shows GulagBear’s video having 261,165 views at the time it was taken. Yet, Klein reported that the most views that the video ever received before it was taken down was 261,406. Klein went on to conclude that the viewership data on the video proves that the screenshot that the WSJ used had been taken briefly before the video was taken down; thus there had been no recent presence of a Coca-Cola ad when the WSJ article claimed that there had been.
Klein also discussed how the WSJ’s report that Google’s automated system placed ads for major brands including Amazon.com and Microsoft Corporation on five different YouTube videos “peddling racist and anti-Semitic content.”
The WSJ article states that they asked these major companies what they intend to do with this information. Companies such as PepsiCo, General Motors, and Twenty-First Century Fox replied that they intended to suspend their agreements with Google. Eventually, these companies pulled out of Youtube advertising altogether.
In their defense, last week on April 3, the WSJ released a statement claiming that they would stand by their article and insisted that the screenshots in question were indeed taken on March 23 and 24 and had not been manipulated. The WSJ claimed that YouTube told them viewer counts were “unreliable and variable”.
While the data that Klein provided in his video doesn’t prove beyond a doubt that WSJ altered the screenshots of GulagBear’s video, the fact remains that the publication has made no attempt to retract statements they made previously in an article in February which essentially labeled YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (a.k.a. PewDiePie) as an anti-Semite.
Kjellberg, who has the most popular channel on YouTube, was no stranger to hit-pieces from the media: they would often attack him with petty claims about the content of his videos and even his personal life. Eventually, Kjellberg began to mock the media in his videos and make obvious jokes such as pretending to be a Nazi.
Three writers from the WSJ then watched all of his videos over a course of months and cherry-picked from them nine anti-Semitic jokes he had made. They took these jokes and presented them to Disney, one of Kjellberg’s sponsors. Because of this, Disney decided to sever ties with Kjellberg.
The WSJ then published an article titled: “Disney Severs Ties With YouTube Star PewDiePie After Anti-Semitic Posts.” This article was followed by a slew of articles from various media outlets making similar claims.
So, what does this all mean?
Statistically, Kjellberg’s channel, and many other YouTube channels, have eclipsed the mainstream media in terms of web traffic. Millennials have made it clear that they are consistently willing to turn to alternative outlets for their entertainment and news as opposed to the old-guard media.
And YouTube is one of, if not the biggest, platforms for these outlets.
And so it seems that there are multiple factors coming into play here. For one, I think that corporations have become more concerned with ethics in these times. Recently, companies have withdrawn their support for Fox amid reports of sexual assault claims against one of the network’s hosts, Bill O’Reilly.
However, what troubles me about the situation with YouTube is that outlets like the WSJ and also The Times, London, have effectively conflated truly racist, anti-progressive content with YouTube channels which are in no way promoting such agendas. Many of these channels are simply providing entertainment or news often with a slight dash of humor. Though some of the content from these outlets may challenge people’s opinions, most are in no way offensive outside of the possibility that they may irritate people who don’t agree with them.
Is this a signal of a war between old media and new media? Perhaps. Is there a reason for concern? I think so.