YouTube turns 14: A look at the many instances when YouTube got things wrong

The past 14 years haven't exactly been easy for YouTube. Here's a peek at what that was like.

YouTube may have started off as a video sharing platform, and for all practical purposes, it still is that, but in India, it has become like its parent Google and is used as a search engine.

You want that recipe for the chicken biryani you are planning to cook? Intent on learning the steps of the latest dance challenge? Perhaps you want to find out how to get those extra kills in PUBG? Where else will you go but YouTube?

But we must give credit where it's due. A few years ago, YouTube was not exactly everyone's go-to option for search queries. Mobile data was expensive and connectivity was not the best in our country. The entry of Jio with its affordable plans certainly raised the amount of time spent watching videos online. Other telcos followed suit and now, India has some of the cheapest data plans anywhere in the world. One beneficiary of that is definitely YouTube, which saw a jump in activity on its platform.

However, it hasn't been a bed of roses for the world's largest video streaming platform. Creators have been at war with the video sharing platform for a very long time and you can thank the demonetisation tactics deployed by YouTube for much of their angst. Then there was the dissemination of extremist and racially charged content on the platform which was less regulated than one would have wanted.

YouTube logo. Reuters

YouTube logo. Reuters

YouTube's path to success has been paved by one controversy after another.

Over the last 14 years, we have seen YouTube land itself in a soup on many an occasion. Here's a look at some of the most prominent controversies.

Logan Paul: Suicide Forest

Screenshot of Logan Paul from his infamous video.

Screenshot of Logan Paul from his infamous video.

I guess we should have seen it coming and so should have YouTube. The often brash and uncouth vlogger had gained a lot of fame in a short span of time for creating daily content based on his buffoonery. One particular day he decided to take his exploits to Japan and ended up uploading a video mocking a suicide vicitim in Aokigahara forest which is popularly known as the "suicide forest," owing to the number of suicidal deaths that have been reported here.

The video had been up for a full 24 hours before YouTube realised its blunder and removed it for violating its policies. YouTube cut its ties with Logan and removed him from YouTube Red’s original series “Foursome.” As if this wasn't enough, Logan Paul allegedly tried to monetise his apology video as well. A later video of him surfaced tasering a dead rat.

So did YouTube ban Logan Paul? Well, apart from demonetising his channel for a couple of weeks, YouTube again provided ads to his videos. This is a man who was arrested for flying a drone over the Colosseum in Rome while being fully aware that it is illegal. It wasn't the first time he was indulging in producing controversial content, but YouTube continued to promote him, till the video from the suicide forest crossed all lines and riled up even the most hardcore fans of Paul's.

Pewds' anti-Semitic slurs 

Pewdiepie. Reuters

Pewdiepie. Reuters

Currently, the most subscribed YouTuber, PewDiePie, has been a prime figure of controversy on YouTube. Putting aside the T-Series vs PewDiePie subscriber battle, which has taken a nasty, racist turn, Pewds is most famously condemned for promoting videos that included anti-Semitic jokes or Nazi imagery. One of the banners in a video read "Death to all Jews" and another read "Hitler did nothing wrong".

Although Walt Disney's Marker Studio, with which Pewds had a tie-up since 2014, severed ties with him and YouTube dropped him from Google's Preferred content creators list, the Swede has still managed to keep his crown as the most subscribed person on the platform. But hey, if you keep on commenting on game videos with a crude sense of humour, then it's all okay with YouTube right?

Adpocalypse — Demonetisation woes

YouTube will offer cash if creators promote new features. Image: Tech2

No, we are not talking about any anti-govt rhetoric here. Following a crackdown on inappropriate content on its platform, YouTube started demonetising ad revenues on many content creators' videos. However, the algorithms to detect hateful content were so skewed that creators who were within YouTube's prescribed guidelines began to feel the brunt of YouTube's wayward policies. Some YouTubers who were earlier earning $6,000 in a month were now getting $1,000 after YouTube's algorithm update. People lost traction on the platform and had to search for alternative jobs to pay their bills.

In a statement, YouTube said that it had hired 10,000 employees to address the issue of inappropriate content. YouTube also said that creators could upload videos as unlisted so that they could get approved for ads before the video became public. However, the damage was already done. An exodus of sorts had already begun of gaming-related creators from YouTube to the rising star Twitch, which has since become the hotbed for gaming streams.

The demonetisation issue, raised to keep advertisers happy, was perhaps YouTube's biggest blunder and has cost a lot of content creators their livelihood.

An extremist side effect of this rampant demonetisation was when Nasim Najafi Aghdam, a content creator on YouTube, opened fire at the company's HQ in San Bruno injuring three people before shooting herself in the head. Apparently, she was unhappy with YouTube's policy which reduced traffic on her channel.

YouTube Rewind getting progressively worse

YouTube Rewind.

YouTube Rewind.

YouTube Rewind used to be something a lot of us looked forward to at the end of every year. The 2017 edition was a bit of a bummer. But nothing could prepare us for the trainwreck that was the YouTube Rewind 2018 video. This video was so bad that it has earned the dubious distinction of being 'the most disliked video ever on YouTube'. Oh, the irony!

It is not hard to see why Rewind 2018 was so displeasing to the YouTube community. It was meant to highlight significant/epic moments in the world of YouTube in 2018. One would have expected something on the Pewds vs T-series battle, Mr Beast's dramatic support for PewDiePie, the Logan Paul vs KSI boxing fight, or many of the hundreds of things that happened on the platform.

Instead, YouTube was found trying too hard to please the advertising community. When you start off a Rewind video — essentially meant to celebrate the YouTube Creator community — with an A-list Hollywood star like Will Smith, you have lost the plot. In addition to Smith, featuring TV stars John Oliver and Trevor Noah, who have absolutely no part to play in YouTube's content creator community, in the Rewind 2018 video also didn't go down well with the YouTube audience in general. Let's hope 2019 has some thoughtful script for the Rewind video.

YouTube copyright scam

YouTube copyright issue.

YouTube copyright issue.

As skewed as YouTube's content filters are, its copyright management system is no better. A recent scam has been unearthed where small content creators were being threatened with copyright strikes unless they paid the blackmailer in cryptocurrency. YouTube pulls down a video if it receives three strikes within three months of a video being reported as infringing on someone's copyright. Receiving a strike also means that your videos are not monetised and getting ad revenue back can be a tedious process.

YouTube’s policies also say that a creator has to give their personal information to the channel that has filed the claim, which in turn can lead to real-life harassment. When official channels fail, YouTube's forums are the only resort. Opening an enquiry is also a pain as creators are blocked from uploading videos until the matter is resolved.

Scope for improvement

Nothing on the internet is perfect and YouTube is no exception. But that doesn't mean it can't be better. YouTube is addressing its demonetisation problems and soon we might find a solution that favours upcoming content creators. As for hate content on the channel, YouTube has hired quite a few folks over the past few years to keep the hate in check on its platform.

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