Take it from someone who was born in a country with censorship and severe punishment, when YouTube, Facebook et al. penalize a creator, it’s not censorship (I would know).

YouTube levied a series of penalties against OANN, citing Covid related videos.

WatchMojo started off covering a wider array of programming, including for purposes of this post historical videos like The Rise of Hitler (which you may notice links to a URL on WatchMojo, and not YouTube), which academic publishers and educational organizations would use in classes and presentations.

In parallel, we produced edgy pop culture and entertainment videos covering “sexy actress” and “violent movie scenes.”

When YouTube launched in 2005, it adopted a laissez-faire approach – partly due to a West coast style liberal mindset, partly due to it being easier to manage. Eventually, as with all ad-supported models, that worldview wore thin. When the Tide Pod challenge took off, marketers took notice and let YouTube know in no uncertain terms that they would not support the platform if the content was in fact damaging to their brands. Silicon Valley titans of industry don’t listen to many people, but they listen somewhat sometimes to some advertisers (and in particular, the holding companies who manage billions in ad spend).

A major inflection point in the evolution of YouTube as it became a powerhouse was the launch of Truview (skippable ads) which was the mother of all scorched earth policies in media. Another was the launch of Google Preferred (aka YouTube Select) which gave marketers access to the top creators’ channels. In fact, the opposite was more pertinent: it allowed creators to generate higher RPMs (revenue per page/video).

One day – notably in April 2018 – we noticed the revenue per videos had fallen a cliff. We thought it may be quarterly seasonality. But I instinctively knew it was something else. Once we dug in, we learned that YouTube had changes the rules of engagement with regards to the kind of editorial that would be included in YouTube Select. I was irate that YouTube would do such a thing without proper notice, and they agreed. But once we put that behind us, I agreed with their position (how they went about it was wrong, but what they wanted to do was the right decision).

YouTube was not, in fact, censoring us. They were simply saying “if you want to earn more revenues, we have a higher standard now.” That’s how markets work. Internally, I told my team that I would always support our fans and their decision to cover whatever topics, but if we wanted to hire as many producers as possible and pay them more and more over time, we had to understand that came with certain responsibilities.

Now granted, a video on sexy actresses or violent killers in movies may be brand safe for some but not all; while Rise of Hitler is very brand-safe for The History Channel and its advertisers, but YouTube is a constant trade-off between “margin of error” and “confidence interval” and if we love the platform for its good, then we have to accept it for its “less than good.”

What’s the Difference Between Publishers vs Platforms?

From a legal sense, there’s not really a difference between platforms and publishers, but in the context of the Telecommunications Act, the DMCA there are.

The wild wild west era of the Web is over. This doesn’t mean that Web = TV from a regulations standpoint, but it does mean that we should expect such platforms to want to step in. What YouTube has done here, to effectively dangle carrots and sticks is more or less what it ought to do (i.e. publish fake news during a pandemic? Lose the right to publish for a week; and, want to stay “edgy?” Great, but don’t expect to make money off of our clients doing so.”

The reality is from the dawn of history, people have said crazy things to stand out. Eventually, you say something crazy enough and must live with the consequences.

I discussed this a few weeks ago at the tail end of this interview with Elias Makos Bell Media’s CJAD, Montreal’s largest English language radio station. We start off talking about lockdowns, the French language (it is Montreal, after all) but wrap it up with “censorship” on the platforms.