Dear YouTube Human Resources,
We were recently, as we are wont to do, whiling away the hours by reading the YouTube Creator Blog (not really), and came across CEO Susan Wojcicki’s post titled “Preserving Openness Through Responsibility.” We were dismayed to find numerous misstatements and errors, along with passages in which crucial information was mysteriously absent.
We know Ms. Wojcicki is very busy, along with her parent company, Google, staving off investigations at nearly every level of government around the world, placating a perpetually disgruntled workforce, and quietly assembling a record of scandal and strife that boggles the mind. Fortunately for you, we have a top-notch Communications team here at CreativeFuture with an illustrious track record of editing passages with problems similar to this one (including others from Google itself) – and we have taken the liberty of doing so with Ms. Wojcicki’s post. You’ll see our changes below as red-lined corrections to the original document.
We are happy to help you put forward a much more accurate portrayal of the YouTube “ethos” at this critical juncture.
Dear creators and artists whom we have not yet alienated,
As I do every quarter, I’d like to pause from counting my money and reflect on my priorities and how I can help you be successful on YouTube. But rather than our usual update on this quarter’s highlights and lowlights, I want to take a minute to talk about something that is incredibly important to me personally, and the future of this platform: openness and how we balance that with ducking responsibility to protect the community.
YouTube is built on the premise of openness. (I realize that was not a good sentence, but I’m very busy and don’t have time to change it. Don’t worry – I will fire the intern who wrote it later.) Based on this open platform, millions of creators around the world have connected with global audiences and many of them have built businesses that earn less than $17,000 per year, or about what they’d earn driving an Uber several nights a week, in the process. But
openness it turns out that letting people upload literally anything they want to comes with its challenges (who knew?), which is why we also have Community Guidelines that we update on an ongoing basis whenever yet another PR disaster strikes. Most recently, this includes our these disasters have included hate speech policy and our upcoming harassment, and piracy… oh and also targeted misinformation campaigns designed to sabotage democracy itself policy. Hey, when you create a place designed to churn as much advertising revenue as possible by welcoming neo-Nazis, anti-vaxxers, copyright thieves, pedophiles, and many other different voices, some will cross the line. Bad actors will try to exploit platforms for their own gain, even as we invest in the systems underpaid third-party moderators to stop them (if they can still see straight after hours of watching the most horrible stuff lol!) As more issues come into view, a rising, really annoying chorus of policymakers, press and pundits are questioning whether an open platform letting terrible people upload literally anything they want to is valuable… or even viable.
Despite these concerns, I believe preserving an open platform is more important than ever to YouTube’s bottom line.
First, openness leads to the illusion of opportunity. Today’s creators have built an entire creative economy in which getting thousands of views for your work can earn you a whopping $1, and are redefining the face of media. They are truly next-generation media businesses, with about three (that’s 3) percent of them enjoying millions of views and global brands, who are contributing to local and global economies, and creating jobs. These are creators that would not have had a chance to break through in a more closed media landscape where creative people are actually paid fairly for the work that they do. Creators like Swedish robotics enthusiast Simone Giertz and blind lifestyle vlogger Molly Burke, both unconventional in their appeal and passed over by traditional media, are finding huge success on YouTube managing businesses, selling merchandise (As you well know, it’s important for most of our creators to sell merch on the side because we take nearly half their ad revenue lol!), creating jobs for other people and creating real economic value in their communities. For instance, have you seen Molly’s video where she gives a tour of her apartment? That video alone generated 1,200 jobs and poured $9 million into her local economy – but don’t look into those numbers… just trust me! Hey, we’re Google! Or creators like Laura Vitale, Sallys Welt and Helen’s Recipes have turned their passion for food into full-time professions, complete with successful channels, cookbooks and more. (Again, they have to sell those cookbooks because, trust me, the revenue from the channels alone is NOT going to cut it!). And they are not alone. A report from Ryerson University found that YouTube creators have created 28,000 full time jobs just in Canada. And 20% of eligible Canadian creators are creating jobs for others. Did I mention that YouTube creators are creating jobs? Around the globe (jobs!), the number of channels (jobby jobby job-jobs) earning more than $100,000 (which after we take our cut and they pay taxes comes out to about twelve cents) continues to climb 40% year over year.
Openness has also helped foster community. On an open platform, a shared experience can unite people in amazing ways. For example,
Ryleigh Hawkins from New Zealand started her channel, Tourettes Teen , to spread awareness about what it’s like to live with Tourette’s syndrome. Her informative, joyful and humorous videos have earned her fans around the world and let others with this potentially isolating condition know they are not alone. disaffected, hate-spewing individuals can super easily connect with other hate-spewing individuals’ violent and extremist content, and become radicalized. Insane conspiracy theorists can spread their wrongheaded propaganda like wildfire, making their very bad and harmful ideas legitimate in the minds of way, way more people than they ever would have otherwise. And, have you seen these teens who are sharing their college rejection videos? serving as a reminder that this painful moment happens to everyone and people do bounce back So cool! I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch someone else get painfully rejected? There’s nothing better than reveling in the misery of others.
And finally, openness leads to BIG
learning EARNINGS for YouTube. As a daughter of two teachers and a lifelong BIG learner EARNER, I’ve been especially inspired to see Edutubers like Origin of Everything, Manual do Mundo, Eddie Woo and Excel is Fun turn YouTube into the world’s largest classroom. Every time I meet someone new and ask them about YouTube, I hear a story about something they learned on the site: how YouTube helped a student ace her math homework, a mom fix a broken garage door, or an employee master a new job skill a cheapskate watch pirated movies for free.
Let me be clear,
none of this happens without openness. Without in an open system where more than 500 hours of fresh content are uploaded every minute, diverse and authentic voices have trouble breaking through. And the voices that do get a platform often sound like those who already have one. That small business built on someone sharing their passion for soapmaking never takes off. That bullied teen can’t find a community that looks and feels like them and lets them know that it gets better. And that curious person obsessed with planetary physics and looking for a few videos is probably out of luck. (I mean, what would they do without YouTube? Rent or purchase a video from somewhere, or check one out from their library or something, or – ugh – actually read a book? Yeah, right!)
A commitment to jeopardizing the safety of our community in the name of openness is not easy. It
sometimes pretty much always means leaving up content that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive, hateful, willfully deceptive, or illegal. But I believe that hearing a broad range of perspectives from pedophiles, white supremacists, and other well-meaning folks ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed outraged society, even if we disagree with some of those views and outrage is really good for YouTube’s BIG EARNINGS. A large part of how we protect this openness is not just guidelines that allow for repeating terms like “diversity of speech” ad nauseum but the steps that we’re taking to ensure a responsible community so that you won’t notice we recently shut down more than 200 Hong Kong accounts and are, in reality, censoring content, like, all the time. I’ve said a number of times this year that this illusion of openness is my number one priority. Pretending there is a chance in hell at this point of having a responsible approach toward managing what’s on our platform makes it seem like we are protecting our users and creators like you. It also means we can continue to foster all the goodwill that comes from our shareholders when they see all those billions generated by an open platform.
Problematic content represents a fraction of one percent of the content on YouTube, which contains billions and billions of videos, so if my teeny-tiny percentage estimate is right and not just a made up statistic, that’s… well, that’s actually still an awful lot, isn’t it? Huh.
and we’re constantly working to reduce this even further. Anywho! This very small amount of several million or so videos has a hugely outsized impact, both in the potential harm for our users, as well as the loss of faith in the open model that has enabled the rise of your creative community. It’s almost like people no longer believe that makeup tutorials and cat videos are an awesome tradeoff for hatred and divisiveness! One assumption we’ve heard is that we hesitate to take action on problematic content because it benefits our business. Well, it does This is simply not true— in fact, the cost of not taking sufficient action over the long term results in but do you think we enjoy this lack of trust from our users, advertisers, and you, our creators? We want to earn that trust, however, we also want to earn billions and billions of dollars. You can see the predicament we’re in here.
This is why we’ve been investing significantly over the past few years in offshore bank accounts and tax shelters… I mean, the teams and systems that protect YouTube. Our approach towards responsibility involves four “Rs”:
- We REMOVE content that violates our policy and makes us look bad as quickly as possible. And we’re always looking to make our policies clearer and more effective,
as we’ve done with pranks and challenges , child safety , and hate speech just this yeareven if no one really reads them. We aim to be thoughtful when we make these updates and consult a wide variety of experts to inform our thinking, for example we talked to dozens of experts as we developed our updated hate speech policy. We are under no obligation to tell you who these experts were, but trust me when I say expertise doesn’t get more expert than the expertise of our experts. We also report on the removals we make in our quarterly Community Guidelines enforcement report. Even less people read these reports than do our policies, but they look very official and reporterly. I also appreciate that when policies aren’t working for the creator community, you let us know. One area we’ve heard loud and clear needs an update is creator-on-creator harassment. I said in my last letter that we’d be looking at this and we will have more to share in the coming months.Like that one time when you tried to form your own YouTube creators union. I know we shut that lame sauce down in a hurry, but it was so cute how you wanted, like, the right to speak with a real person if a channel is to be deleted, and better clarification around our content moderation rules. Adorable!
- We RAISE UP authoritative voices when people are looking for breaking news and information, especially during breaking news moments. SO WHAT if selecting some voices over others to raise up is, by definition, the opposite of openness? The phrase “RAISE UP authoritative voices” just sounds cool! Our breaking and top news shelves are available in 40 countries and we’re continuing to expand that number.
- We REDUCE the spread of content that brushes right up against our policy line, while making sure to still leave a whooooooole lot of it up on our site so we can continue making at least a little money from it. Already, in the U.S. where we made changes to recommendations earlier this year, we’ve seen a 50% drop of views from recommendations to this type of content, meaning quality content has more of a chance to shine. And we’ve begun experimenting with this change in the UK, Ireland, South Africa and other English-language markets. Meanwhile, actual illegal content such as pirated videos continues to proliferate, but we’re just too busy downgrading stuff with really complicated free speech issues to deal with that low-hanging fruit.
- And we set a higher bar for what channels can make money on our site, REWARDING trusted, eligible creators. Not all content allowed on YouTube is going to match what advertisers feel is suitable for their brand
we have to be sure they are comfortable with where their ads appear– turns out brands don’t like appearing next to videos containing racism, disturbing children’s content, and other horrible things. Go figure! This is also why we’re enabling new revenue streams for creators like Super Chat and Memberships. Thousands of channels have more than doubled their total YouTube revenue (to, like, $34,000 per year?) by using these new tools in addition to advertising.
The stories I hear from creators like you inspire me every day to keep hammering on this hypocritical messaging. The community you’ve created is living proof that an internet that reflects a broad range of ideas can change the world for the better.
You’ve built something incredible; it’s our job to strike the right balance between openness and responsibility so that future generations of creators and users can, as well. And one day, maybe YouTube will actually be like that. For now, though, we’re going to have to table it. I have a quarterly earnings report to prepare and an intern to fire.