Image: Phillip DeFranco

For the past year YouTubers have been trying to navigate a deluge of false copyright claims and a changing algorithm that rewards needlessly-long videos. Now, allegedly, the platform is starting to withhold paychecks.

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For professional or semi-professional YouTubers, monetization through advertising is almost always their main source of revenue. Exurb1a, MrRepzion, Philip DeFranco—who alone has 4.5 million subscribers and has been on the platform for over a decade—and others have recently made videos claiming YouTube has pulled ads from their videos, citing a new* policy.

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The Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines are difficult to find, and creators were seemingly not informed they would be taking effect. Like many of the site’s guidelines, the AFCG are so open to interpretation as to be applicable to nearly every channel and situation. Who exactly is determining what constitutes a “controversial or sensitive subject”?

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While YouTube are of course free to run its platform as it pleases, it would do well to explain its intentions to creators more clearly.

DeFranco believes his videos were hit for covering news events like Chris Brown’s standoff with police (and for his innocuous tagline “’sup you beautiful bastards.”) MrRepzion’s channel is mostly devoted to mental health and believes dozens of his videos had ads stripped for his earnest discussion of difficult subjects like rape and suicide.

It’s not known if channels are having their videos “demonetized” by actual humans on the platform side or by an automated bot similar to how content is flagged for copyright violation. At present, creators can appeal to have videos re-reviewed though it’s not clear what that process looks like, how long it takes, or if backpay is given to creators whose videos are demonetized in error.

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*Correction: According to a YouTube spokesperson, there has been no policy or enforcement change put in place by the platform. Instead, the outrage expressed by De Franco and others appears to be caused by a chance to notifications. Now YouTubers are receiving emails about videos that have been unmonetized.

In the past, YouTubers would have to go into an individual video’s analytics to see it had been unmonetized by the platform. It seems clear the platform is trying to be more transparent in notifying users through easy-to-see notifications and an appeals process, though it’s galling to think these things weren’t in place already.

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Update Sept. 1, 4:15pm EST: A number of high-profile YouTubers have since made videos chiming in on the controversy including Boogie2988, Videogamedunkey, ETC Show, H3H3productions, and Flashgitz. Those five channels have approximately 10.5 million subscribers between them.

Some are calling the Advertiser-Friendly Content Guidelines a form of censorship (which they aren’t) but widespread confusion among even the platform’s heaviest hitters suggest these policies were not widely known or understood, even if they aren’t new as the platform claimed.