Youtube posted an interesting article on their official blog entitled Our Ongoing Work To Tackle Hate which listed four key areas or "pillars" that that Youtube was addressing in order to "protect the Youtube community from harmful content". While such a stance seems rather condescending to the people consuming their content, what I find interesting is the direction that these defining internet platforms are starting to move towards.
For a brief moment in time, it appeared the internet might offer a new ecosystem to explore a more open and free network of connectivity between ordinary people. But as more and more people become accustomed to internet, it appears that such networks are closing up and adopting legacy partners and policies while beginning to separate and detach from the individuals that gave the platforms life to begin with.
Pillar One: Removing Violative Content
At first glance this seems to be agreeable. There are certain boundaries that society places on acceptable content. I don't think any would argue against a platform taking down content that showcased the physical abuse of a child or the torture of a human being, or the act of violence against other people.
Although in the blog, such abhorrent content is not the area of concern by Youtube, but rather those who engage in hate speech. In their definition of hate speech they label group superiority and discrimination against subgroups as the primary thing that they seek to target and remove. To the ordinary user such an idea appears to have some good intent behind it and given that Youtube is a private entity, they fully have the right to display and present today presented on their platform as they please.
There may be some worry that such a policy may begin to be interpreted in a particular way to remove individuals with particular ideologies that may run in disagreement to policies Youtube and their partners may agree with, but since Youtube is a private platform, all of this seems reasonable although it may alienate a portion of their viewership that engage with borderline content.
Pillar Two: Reducing Borderline Content
Youtube has appeared to take a stand in terms of decreasing access to borderline videos. These videos are the type to spread misinformation and hate speech which we mentioned earlier. They boast that they have reduced views on borderline content by 50% which is completely their right to do, but would be very concerning if I were a content creator that didn't comply perfectly with their rules and guidelines.
While the main target of this filter is misinformation, the filter (which is most likely some complex machine learning model) is likely going to consider borderline content as content that Youtube data analysts consider "borderline". Unfortunately algorithms still can't learn on their own and rely on people to feed them data to learn what is good or bad. The potential for bias and error remain here and often you'll get a bot that is very harsh and will tend to take out content where language overlaps. This means even talking about borderline content potentially dangerous even though the content itself isn't borderline.
While these changes should succeed in decreasing visitation to borderline content, one definitive effect it will have is to decrease the diversity of content and make the overall platform less interesting. Which is their right to do, but perhaps not the best long term decision (despite their near monopoly in the space).
Pillar Three: Raising Up Authoritative Voices
At initial glance this one really rubbed me the wrong way. It's no secret that Youtube has transitioned significantly to promoting more traditional avenues of media and away from independent and original creators. Youtube now appears to be even more aggressive in recommending authoritative content over borderline content and appears to want to increase that aggressiveness when viewers are watching potential borderline content in perhaps an effort to lure users away.
Given the current environment of outrage and negative publicity, advertisers and legacy media are often overly cautious when it comes to connecting their brands to content. Given that Youtube has transitioned into your typical corporate entity, their focus is on their primary customer: the advertiser. Thus, it makes sense for them to move towards media sources that have a long lasting relationship with advertisers which is a real shame. As I mentioned above, the allure of money tends to stagnate the support and growth of creative independents that often create interesting content because they work outside the rules and guidelines. By promoting falling in line, creativity and originality is bound to decline. Just look at network TV, that place is a dry content wasteland.
Pillar Four: Rewarding Trusted Creators
To summarize Youtube plans on demonetizing borderline content and funneling the money towards the safe and sterile stuff. Strike Three on promoting creativity. Again, it is worth reiterating that it is completely their right to move away from more innovative, bold, and potentially offensive content.
In their last paragraph, they mention how their openness has allowed creativity to thrive. They then pivot to discussing how important it is for them to protect that openness. But their solution is to be more closed. There is nothing necessarily wrong to being more closed. In fact, there are a lot of good reasons to reducing access to certain areas of content in order to improve the user experience (Steem is perhaps an example of this). In this case, however, the risk of alienating borderline creators and hiding non-traditional creators has the potential to stagnate the platform as it traditions from a user powered community to a traditional media distributor and conglomerate.
And perhaps the problem is the fact that they aren't starting to do this. They have been doing this for awhile. Each subsequent policy change or implementation they make, they move one step away from creators and consumers and one towards appeasing advertisers and potential big money partners. The centralization of Youtube is starting to take it's toll. It will be interesting if some technology startup or decentralized solution will rise to challenge the internet giant like it did to television over a decade ago.