NewsTubers, rejoice: YouTube has reversed course and decided to allow select creators to monetize coronavirus content. Previously, any video mentioning the word had their ads removed, per YouTube’s “sensitive content” policy which categorized the coronavirus as a global health crisis (in league with natural disasters, tragic events, and terrorist acts). The move infuriated creators who argued that the decision to demonetize the topic would lead to a chilling effect. Tech reviewer Linus Sebastian, for example, managed to dodge the algorithm in a video about the coronavirus’s impact on manufacturing by flashing “coronavirus” headlines and alluding to “events” in China. While Linus Tech Tips talks about tech, you can imagine this would ding an independent news commentator.
“It’s becoming clear this issue is now an ongoing and important part of everyday conversation, and we want to make sure news organizations and creators can continue producing quality videos in a sustainable way,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki stated today in an open letter.
The platform had announced the sensitive content decision back in February, without much explanation. The subtext was that YouTube was prioritizing advertisers; the “sensitive content” label falls under “advertiser-friendly” content guidelines, and monitoring for certain words can preempt an ad for a major brand finding its way onto disinformation.
Does this mean that coronavirus pranks get to make money now? Not necessarily. In an open letter, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that monetization will be open to news partners and “a limited number of channels” that “accurately self-certify.” Under that system, YouTubers check a series of boxes indicating the levels of potentially offensive content in their videos; the automated review makes a determination; if you disagree with YouTube’s algorithms, you can contest their findings with a human. YouTube rewards channels that consistently accurately label their videos by increasingly trusting them to post without automated review, which presently flags “coronavirus.”
It’s not a perfect system. Presently the version of the TikTok hit “It’s Corona Time” without the word “coronavirus” in the title has escaped YouTube’s World Health Organization and CDC banners which it has applied to all coronavirus-related content. (Another clip, titled “Its corona time official song #Coronavirus,” with over one million views, has been demonetized.) But YouTube is governing a population six times larger than that of the United States, and nobody will ever be thrilled.