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On the surface, YouTube is still the world’s most popular video platform and the first place you go to watch both short- and long-form video content on just about any topic. Not to mention the fact that the most popular YouTube creators have millions of followers, making them online celebrities with instant name recognition. However, peer a little below the surface, and you can start to see how YouTube is losing its relevance with creators. With each new rule change that clamps down on freedom of expression, YouTube is pushing creators off its platform.
YouTube’s new anti-harassment policy
What’s odd about all this, of course, is that there really isn’t some form of sinister plot or conspiracy behind all the rule changes. YouTube is simply looking to clean things up, and make the platform a safer place for advertisers. Take the company’s new anti-harassment policy, which makes it much easier to boot off a content creator who is making threats against another creator, or who is conducting a public harassment campaign against people based on their gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Of course, some might see the new anti-harassment policy as a way to kick people off the platform that it doesn’t approve of for their political views. For example, YouTube might over-extend these rules to remove certain political commentators that it doesn’t want spreading their messages online. In short, YouTube might conveniently overlook the harassment of President Trump by left-leaning political video creators, but react quickly and decisively if a pro-Trump sympathizer starts to harass any of the top Democratic presidential candidates.
The New York City analogy
But here’s an analogy to keep in mind: Remember New York City in the 1980’s? Crime was up, X-rated cinemas were a fact of life on 42nd Street, and there was an edginess and griminess that was starting to keep both suburbanites and tourists away. So the decision was ultimately made to clean up New York City by cracking down on all the little stuff – like the squeegee guys who showed up near the Lincoln Tunnel in midtown to clean your car windows for a small “donation” – in order to make the whole city more livable and attractive to tourists and businesses.
While there is an element of nostalgia about the “real” New York City that no longer exists, it’s hard to deny that midtown Manhattan is now a better place overall. (Especially if you enjoy swanky midtown eateries, Disney-style entertainment shows, and multi-million-dollar condos). In many ways, it would appear that YouTube is making the same type of business decision. In search of new advertising dollars and more eyeballs, the platform is instituting rule change after rule change in order to make YouTube more attractive overall to the average Internet user. This will drive away some YouTube users, but will also make the platform more family-friendly (and advertiser-friendly).
Will creators move to new platforms?
The only problem is that YouTube is beginning to walk a thin line with creators. If YouTube continues to demonetize their videos or kick them off their platform, these creators will simply move elsewhere. DLive and BitChute, for example, are becoming new video platforms to find these creators (e.g. PewDiePie already has nearly 700,000 followers on DLive). In fact, some creators who are most concerned about being de-platformed are already using their YouTube videos as a form of advertising to tell their fans and followers how to find them on DLive.
At some point, YouTube might lose its relevance if a critical mass of creators decide to “defect” to another platform where they feel more valued and where they do not feel like their freedom of expression is being limited.