Video creators that have been uploading to YouTube are very familiar with the over-the-top censorship at that site that has been going on for years. However, it is interesting to get the perspective of someone who has discovered this YouTube censorship perhaps for the first time. Even more interesting is that Helen Lewis of the Atlantic magazine can hardly be considered a conservative with a political axe to grind.
So let us now go on a voyage of censorship discovery with Lewis in her Friday piece, “What You Can’t Say on YouTube.”
Recently, on a YouTube channel, I said something terrible, but I don’t know what it was. The main subject of discussion—my reporting on the power of online gurus—was not intrinsically offensive. It might have been something about the comedian turned provocateur Russell Brand’s previous heroin addiction, or child-abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. I know it wasn’t the word Nazi, because we carefully avoided that. Whatever it was, it was enough to get the interview demonetized, meaning no ads could be placed against it, and my host received no revenue from it.
I wonder if Lewis knows that for several months after COVID hit the USA, you couldn’t even say the words “COVID” or “Coronavirus” even in passing. In fact, you were in danger of having your video censored if you were merely talking about Corona beer because it sounded too much like the taboo “Coronavirus.”
“It does start to drive you mad,” says Andrew Gold, whose channel, On the Edge, was the place where I committed my unknowable offense. Like many full-time YouTubers, he relies on the Google-owned site’s AdSense program, which gives him a cut of revenues from the advertisements inserted before and during his interviews. When launching a new episode, Gold explained to me, “you get a green dollar sign when it’s monetizable, and it goes yellow if it’s not.” Creators can contest these rulings, but that takes time—and most videos receive the majority of their views in the first hours after launch. So it’s better to avoid the yellow dollar sign in the first place. If you want to make money off of YouTube, you need to watch what you say.
…Absent enough human moderators to deal with the estimated 500 hours of videos uploaded every minute, YouTube uses artificial intelligence to enforce its guidelines. Bots scan auto-generated transcripts and flag individual words and phrases as problematic, hence the problem with saying heroin. Even though “educational” references to drug use are allowed, the word might snag the AI trip wire, forcing a creator to request a time-consuming review.
Just like mentioning that a nice cold Corona would be a great beer to drink on a hot day could trigger the AI Big Brother in the early era of the pandemic. As a result, public figures from Ron DeSantis to Russell Brand are relying on Rumble as their main platform. Brand said he was tired of YouTube’s “wild algebra.”
So the big mistake was Andrew Gold not uploading your interview about online gurus to Rumble where they don’t go AI censorship crazy about videos.
One of the most troublesome areas of content is COVID—about which there is both legitimate debate over treatments, vaccines, and lockdown policies and a great river of misinformation and conspiracy theorizing. “The first video I ever posted to YouTube was a video about ivermectin, which explained why there was no evidence supporting its use in COVID,” the creator Susan Oliver, who has a doctorate in nanomedicine, told me. “YouTube removed the video six hours later. I appealed the removal, but they rejected my appeal. I almost didn’t bother making another video after this.”
Pssst! Rumble. They haven’t gone full mental jacket on censorship as has sadly happened at YouTube.