YouTube is famously terrible at announcing site changes, and the upcoming rollout of its “community” features are thus far no different. Today it created a program to enlist users as moderators, and it’s bound to be a goddamn mess.
The video—posted to the YouTube Help channel and entitled “Getting Started with YouTube Heroes”—gives a high-level explanation of what moderation will look like. Users who apply for and are accepted into the program will gain points for things like writing subtitles, reporting content that violates the community guidelines, or “shar[ing] knowledge with others.” Points count towards a vague, gamified leveling system.
At “level 3,” moderators (don’t make me use the word “heroes” in this context, YouTube) are able to flag videos en masse and moderate community content. Higher levels bring more perks, like beta testing new features and being able to “contact YouTube staff directly,” something even the biggest creators on the platform often have difficulty doing.
It’s been clear for some time now that the platform has been unable to manage moderation on its own—whether that’s mangled copyright system, infuriatingly vague community guidelines, or the plethora of porn on the site. In short, YouTube appear to be passing the buck on to users.
User moderation isn’t a catastrophe in itself—and in fact might free up employees of the platform to improve site features. But the infighting and favoritism endemic to user moderation on sites like Reddit and Wikipedia would be all the more fraught on YouTube because unlike those volunteer sites, many of YouTube’s creators make their living on the site. In any case, new site features on the platform have been met with hostility in the past, and a change this massive is likely to cause similar confusion and backlash.
It’s not clear what sort of oversight the platform will provide over the Heroes program, but if there are ways it can be exploited, users are sure to find them. We’ve reached out to YouTube for details and will update if we hear back.
Update 9/22/16 2:22pm EST: Since this story first published several major creators have made videos taking issue with the Heroes program. Anthony Fantano, Philip DeFranco, AngryJoeShow, and others expressed concern over the potential for the program to be exploited, while NerdCubed suggested adding a “protected” state for videos so that they would be free from potentially overzealous moderation. Likewise, the r/videos community on Reddit were quick to point out that the program—though details about it are still somewhat scarce—could be prone to brigading efforts.
As predicted, users appear to already be signing up for the Heroes program with the express purpose of making it ineffective, as evidenced by a thread on Endchan.
At the time this update is being written, the Heroes announcement video has 197,812 downvotes. We still have not heard back from YouTube but will update with details on the program if we do.