Is YouTube becoming too big to handle?

EMILY HARRISON

YouTube is one of the biggest entertainment platforms on the planet, yet it is also one of the most controversial. Many young South Africans rely on the platform as a main source of entertainment. According to Google, six out of ten people worldwide prefer to watch videos online than on TV. Not only is the platform used for visual entertainment but also to stream music.

The reason for this dependability is largely due to the fact that YouTube is a free service where entertainment services like Dstv, Netflix, and most music streaming services create monthly expenses. However, with the constant swarm of controversies surrounding YouTube, it is becoming doubtful that it will be able to persist as a reliable free service.

YouTube has had many high profile controversies. Among them was the recent copyright issue in which creators abused the “copy strike” option as a form of revenge leading to videos being needlessly taken down and channels deleted, because YouTube did not check the validity of the claims. There was also an investigation done by Buzzfeed News, with regards to videos that involved children in abusive and exploitative situations, which were getting millions of views and going unnoticed by YouTube.

The most recent controversy is another child exploitation problem. The issue came to light with a video made by American YouTuber, Matt Watson, in which he highlighted the fact that with a few short clicks, YouTube’s recommendation algorithm suggests videos exclusively featuring young girls. Watson then showed how in the comment section of these videos, child predators were adding time stamps for moments in the videos when the young girls were seen in compromising positions. These commenters were also leaving links to child pornography. This flaw in YouTube’s recommendation algorithm made it easier for predators to access the exploitative content. After big brands like Disney and Nestle pulled their advertisements from the platform when Watson’s video went viral, YouTube stated that it banned 400 channels and disabled comments on millions of videos. 

 

“YouTube’s recommendation algorithm made it easier for predators to access the exploitative content”

 

YouTube also told creators to monitor their comment section, as inappropriate comments could lead to demonetisation. The creators were left to solve the problem themselves instead of the company dealing with it in a more effective manner. This, along with the need to have a consistent video upload schedule in order for YouTube’s algorithm to recommend your videos leads to serious creator burnout and dissatisfaction.

YouTube shows little awareness of how the controversies effect the creators and their livelihood. A lack of ad-revenue due to problems YouTube should solve, means less income for creators. It is likely that creators will start to leave the platform if YouTube continues to be a negative environment for them. The constant controversy surrounding YouTube shows how the platform is becoming too big to handle. YouTube simply cannot keep up with the amount of content uploaded every single day and this leads to things like the child exploitation problem existing without detection and immediate consequences. Besides for visual entertainment, many young South Africans use YouTube to stream free music. However, over the last decade YouTube and the music industry have been at odds surrounding how much YouTube pays record labels for the use of their music.

This issue was somewhat resolved when the platform released their own music streaming service, YouTube Music. YouTube Music, however, pays record labels the least out of all music streaming services, according to Statista. The app was recently released in South Africa and is free to stream from as you would normal videos, however, if you want to play the music in the background or download audio only, you will have to pay R59.99 monthly.

These controversies lead to questions of why people should actively support such a platform. When considering that young South Africans have other financial responsibilities, it is understandable why this platform is so attractive. With the recent launch of the YouTube Music app in South Africa, it is likely that even more people will start using the platform. YouTube must start showing awareness that they cater for such a large audience and therefore need to be more responsible with the content they feature. It will be up to YouTube to create a better platform for both their audience and creators as so many people rely on it for entertainment and their livelihood. YouTube has tapped into a market that desperately needs to be more accessible and because of this, needs to move forward in a more responsible way.