When I had just started Satyr Central, one of my earliest rants was about the clusterfuck that is Youtube. But immediately after posting that rant, I regretted it; how had I managed to miss so many terrible aspects of a terribly run company in my rush to have my first rant posted?
In that initial rant, I focused on four things: loud and annoying ads, the decision to take away the feature where you can exit the app and still keep the video playing, the decision to reintroduce said feature as one of the exciting new perks of YouTube Premium for just $12 a month, and the company cracking down on knockoff apps that allowed users to do what YouTube used to let you do until they decided they wanted to take certain features away and place them behind a paywall.
So it goes without saying…fuck YouTube.
However, I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. Not only had I missed several crucial points in my totally reasonable and not at all bitter, uh, “think piece” on the wildly successful dumpster fire that is YouTube, I hadn’t accounted for new trash being added to this flaming heap of garbage since late December when I posted the original rant.
I decided to rectify that by posting something of an update. So here it is: A Rant On YouTube: The Sequel.
I have no idea when double ads were introduced. I want to say that it was after the first installment of this rant, but I realize that I’m probably such an easily appeased sheep that I’m just used to it and it’s been around for far longer than that.
For a long time, ads were fifteen to thirty seconds long and unskippable. That was annoying. YouTube seemed to realize it was annoying, so they cut the ad time to fifteen seconds and made it so that you could hit a button to skip the ad after five seconds had passed. They also added ads that are only five seconds long. Honestly, I’m not sure of the order of any of these “features” or changes, so I’m just spitballing here and hoping that I’m right.
Somewhat recently (I think? Capitalist time is meaningless), they decided to change up how their ads work yet again. Sometimes you get a five second ad. Sometimes you get a thirty second ad that can be skipped after five seconds. Sometimes you get a fifteen second unskippable ad. Sometimes you get two out of three.
That’s right. Ads come in twos now. If your first ad is the five second unskippable one, buckle up buttercup, ’cause you have to sit through that one and the first five seconds of the next one. If it’s a skippable fifteen second ad, you can bypass both ads by hitting “Skip Ad.”
That’s where YouTube Premium comes in again. I ranted in my last YouTube post about how the whole “exit the app and still be able to play videos” feature was taken away only for YouTube to graciously return it to us…if we only just pay $12 a month. One of the other perks of YouTube Premium is the removal of these irritating (and now doubled) ads.
Corporations are nothing if not pure evil genius, and while I’m sure there’s plenty of other people who share the sentiment that we shouldn’t pay for something that used to be free until it was taken away and locked behind a paywall, there’s also the gnawing, inescapable temptation to just get rid of the ads once and for all, all for the low, low price of $12 (which is not, I might add, a low price for a service like that). The platform offers a one-month free trial, just enough time to get you adjusted to using the platform without the hassle of ads or the frustration of being unable to keep a video playing in the background, just before they take it away.
Free trials are a great conversion tactic. Free trials that help users escape an everyday nuisance are an even better conversion tactic. Because once they end, that everyday nuisance that you used to be able to block out in your mind suddenly becomes unbearable, and you find yourself thinking that the $12 monthly fee doesn’t sound so bad anymore when compared to the agonizing fifteen-second wait with the same jingles and catch phrases every time one of the same five ads plays.
Everyone knows how annoying ads are. Hell, the creator of pop-up ads even apologized for inflicting his creation upon the world, stating that it wasn’t his intention to make them so, well, annoying.
Alas, capitalism finds a way. And while it was nice to have thirty second ads removed in favor of ads half as long, or ads that you can skip after a little while, it was inevitable that the desire for profit would result in the shameless reintroduction of more ads eventually.
I’ll end this part of my rant by adding that, as someone who loves listening to ASMR and is known to fall asleep to it, waking up to an ad twice as loud as the actual video is not appreciated.
Not at all.
Downvoting Comments Does…Basically Nothing
This has bothered me for a long time, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t incorporate it in my previous rant.
Downvotes do not (visibly) do anything. I looked it up in preparation for this rant because I wanted to make sure that the things I bitch about are at least somewhat warranted, and I found that supposedly downvoting YouTube comments lowers its placement even if you can’t actually see how many downvotes that comment has.
But there’s still a pretty big problem with that: mob mentality is very, very real. If a garbage comment garners a ton of upvotes, slightly lowering its placement with invisible downvotes won’t do a whole lot. Bigots who deny or don’t even realize that they’re bigots will see the hundreds of upvotes on a garbage comment, view it as validation of their garbage views, and believe that hundreds of people share those garbage views because the many more people who probably downvoted it don’t actually appear in any meaningful capacity. It’s a great way to make bigots feel more confident in their stupid beliefs when that’s the last thing that should be happening.
I know, I know. “Brioche, why do you care so much about YouTube comments? Everyone knows no one should ever take them seriously because it’s a complete cesspool.” But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be. If that racist comment that got a hundred upvotes but seven hundred downvotes actually reflected those numbers accurately, then maybe people would be less willing to argue that bigots deserve a platform because there’s so many of them and “their feelings matter too.” The truth is that, while there are a lot of people who have bigoted views, there are a lot more people who don’t (or at the very least know how to mind their own fucking business). Racists, homophones, sexists, ableists, none of them should ever be able to go anywhere and think, “Wow, a lot of people think like I do. Maybe I’m right to hate this particular group of people after all!”
Not to mention the fact that big platforms that enable comments like YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter are also breeding grounds for plenty of misinformation. A highly upvoted “fact” on YouTube will be taken as gospel by people too lazy to look into it themselves, and downvoting it for its inaccuracy does, well, nothing. I’ve been that lazy schlep that assumes a highly upvoted comment sharing an important “fact” is accurate, only to find out later that it’s either taken out of context or just plain wrong. It’s just more convenient to assume you learned something new from this random comment you happened to come across than to do the research yourself or check the accuracy of that comment by looking it up.
Again, I know it sounds over dramatic to be annoyed by how comments function on an entertainment platform, but the truth is that these platforms have a lot of influence, especially on young people, and while I could go on a whole other rant about the content creators themselves who have the most influence, the comments definitely do play a role in how kids (and everyone) think.
Whether companies intend it or not, the way their platform is run has a lot of impact, especially when it’s as huge a platform as YouTube. People will take what their favorite content creators say at their word, and they will form a little group of like-minded fans because we all like to feel like we belong somewhere, and what better way to belong than by interacting with people who like the same things we do?
All I’m saying is that it’s easy for us to drink the Kool-Aid. We all do it, especially when we’re young and impressionable. Making downvotes meaningless just allows the worst of the Kool-Aid to slither its way to the top.
Youtube Is Rampant With Misinformation and Propaganda
Whether it’s comments by armchair psychologists and political scientists that—as mentioned above—get a ton of likes because people just assume their random biased opinion is valid, YouTubers whose channels have nothing to do with politics but somehow manage to spew misleading talking points anyway, or channels directly dedicated to indoctrinating young viewers, YouTube is rife with misinformation. As COVID-19 started ramping up all over the world, virus “truthers” started cropping up with it, insisting that wearing a mask is dangerous or that the virus is some sort of deep state propaganda that doesn’t actually exist. To YouTube’s credit, they seem to be making an effort to crack down on the pseudoscience and the conspiracy theorist garbage that could get people killed, and they’ve also been prioritizing making videos by actual health care professionals easier to find.
But while the COVID denial is (mostly) being handled, there’s still plenty of science denial, racism, sexism, and straight up propaganda that is allowed to remain on YouTube and will probably never go away because big platforms like this love to “appeal to all sides.”
Now, before I get into this next part, I should include a disclaimer: I’m a hardcore left winger, and I am not a fan of right wingers or centrists. I think they’re full of shit. So maybe in saying this, I am being the kind of biased creator that I am accusing YouTube of allowing on their platform, but when you have people like Candace Owens, Ben Shapiro, Stephen Crowder, Joe Rogan, and Keemstar all over your platform, you’re allowing a cesspool to fester. From the token Black conservative who thinks Hitler’s biggest oopsie was that he wanted to globalize and “make everybody German,” the pseudo intellectual who insisted water levels rising isn’t a big deal because, “You think that people aren’t going to just sell their homes and move?” the proud conservative commentator who doesn’t seem to have a purpose other than being a conservative owning the libs with his hilarious comedy, the so-called “centrist” who appeals to centrists (which is to say he doesn’t seem to believe in anything in particular and oscillates based on whatever seems more interesting at that point), and the blatant racist whose only purpose is to point out drama in the YouTube community and cause it himself, you’ve got a lot of trash all just chillin’ on your platform and making bank by spewing their nonsense. And just like I said about YouTube comments, people like to feel like they belong. If any one of these people makes even one video that resonates with an impressionable pre-teen/teen, or someone disillusioned with the state of politics, then suddenly the garbage comments start to make sense. The stupid armchair political pundit videos that these people create start to seem legit. Everything you were ever angry about starts to have a boogieman that you can blame it on. And spoiler alert: with most of these people, that boogieman is brown people and/or left wingers.
Again, I am not an unbiased party. I avoid these people, and everyone like them, like the plague. I don’t understand how they appeal to anyone, and I am well past the point of being willing to try. But when you’re on the side (or even just willing to hear out the side) that couldn’t give less of a fuck about science, no matter how many lives their denial puts at risk, or the side that tolerates racists and sexists (and no, having a token Black person or a woman on your side doesn’t mean you’re magically not the racist side anymore. It just means you have a token to parade around now), I can’t help but assume that you are the side of misinformation and propaganda. And YouTube is totally cool with that.
What The Fuck Is ElsaGate?!
My sophomore year when my DnD group once got distracted as we always would, one of the many topics that came up was ElsaGate, mysterious and disturbing types of videos that would show up on YouTube and appeared to be targeted towards kids. There doesn’t seem to be any particular goal to these videos, but they all typically have a ton of views despite a lack of plot, purpose, or really…anything. They have nothing going for them. At all.
The “featured characters” of these videos vary, but are primarily Elsa and Spiderman. I assume that the use of popular children’s characters is how these channels—whatever they are—convince young kids browsing YouTube without supervision to click their videos, which makes the disturbing content of said videos all the more unsettling. Why do these channels try to lure kids to watch videos of their favorite cartoon and superhero characters fucking, peeing on, or dismembering each other?
Again, I’ll give YouTube credit where it’s due. As of 2020, it appears that most if not all of these channels have been removed for violating guidelines. But the reason why these videos were finally removed is the same reason Reddit went on a banning spree of a lot of their worst subreddits: user backlash eventually forced them to.
If it wasn’t for coverage by major outlets like Forbes and BBC as well as the careful documentation of all of these channels by concerned (or maybe just curious) users looking to crack the case, would YouTube have done anything to track and remove these channels? It’s hard to say, though my silly cynical ass leans towards “no.”
Maybe I’m asking too much. Maybe I should be happy that they did something eventually. Better late than never, right?
But the fact that something like this, a weird influx of videos targeted towards kids (that might have been trying to groom them for all we know), was allowed to continue unchecked for as long as three years before YouTube finally put a stop to it…I don’t know. It just bothers me. Does there have to be mass outrage and national coverage anytime something like this happens? Is it too much to ask that a company with so much power and influence would stay on top of this kind of stuff without having to be begged to?
I don’t know, man. Maybe I am asking too much.
No, I Don’t Want to Take Trump’s Stupid Fucking Survey
Call me an angry left-wing radical socialist all you like. I do not want to take that fucking survey that’s been appearing in nearly every ad before videos that I come across on YouTube. Especially when that survey features brilliant, hard-hitting questions like these:
Miss me with that shit.
Honestly, political ads on YouTube in general annoy me. But that dumb fucking jingle that plays while a little arrow points to “Take The Survey” while I’m just trying to watch one god damn YouTube video…it drives me nuts.
If I ever do decide to take the time to take this survey, that dumbass campaign best believe I will be writing in MANY, MANY answers. And they won’t like a single one of them.
Garbage Copyright Striking
If you’ve been on YouTube and followed the mess of YouTuber drama for a while, you might have heard about the controversy around the Fine Brothers, the creators of the popular series “Kids React,” “Elders React,” “YouTube React,” etc, etc. In 2015, I remember being a dumb little high schooler following the drama closely as their channel lost subscribers by the hundreds of thousands because they attempted to trademark the term “react” and essentially claim the format of react videos as their own. I was obsessed with looking up those real-time subscriber count videos to watch as they lost subs by the hundreds every few minutes. The outrage might have been a bit overblown, and at some points completely mindless mob hate, but the fact that a channel had (and attempted to use) the power to copyright a word and by extension an entire video format is fuuuuucked uuuup. And while The Fine Brothers undoubtedly played a huge role in the prevalence of “reaction” videos—for better or worse, their efforts to copyright a word sparked enough outrage that they eventually backed out of it.
But the copyright shenanigans don’t end there. There was a controversy a while back about a YouTuber whose channel was shut down for copyright infringement because they stole, get this, the song that they created. Apparently a company just reported them for copyright, stole their music and claimed it as theirs, and YouTube was just like, “Yep, sounds about right. Nothing out of order here.” I’m not sure if this issue was ever rectified, but in looking it up, I did find a bunch of other threads posted about copyright claims being filed for their own music. And even once the problem is addressed and the copyright strikes are removed, it’s still lost revenue that these music creators probably won’t ever get back.
I will say that as someone who only creates unlisted videos on YouTube for Patrons, I don’t actually know how the copyright issue works or how often it’s a problem for creators. A lot of the creators that I follow like Dead Meat and CalebCity have run into demonetization or copyright problems with YouTube; Dead Meat because of the rather explicit content featured in horror movies, which YouTube is not a fan of even when he censors it, and CalebCity because the outro song he used to use (which I loved) got him a copyright strike that forced him to change the song on every one of his videos.
Now in 2020, copyright striking has become a problem that plagues a lot of creators, mostly because YouTube doesn’t seem to have the best or most thorough methods for handling it, so it’s pretty easy to just copyright claim a video whether it’s a justified claim or not. The ease at which videos can be copyright striked has resulted in unfair strikes and even downright extortion, all under a copyright policy that just seems confusing and finicky.
Even With All This, We Know Damn Well We Won’t Do a Single Fucking Thing About It, and They Know It Too
I’m a YouTube ho. There, I said it. I love YouTube. I love the horror channels, the gaming channels, the ASMR, the uncomfortable reality show highlights, all of it. Even with all of my complaints, of which there are many, there is no video sharing platform that functions better than YouTube.
The truth is that they get away with being the way they are (which is to say, awful) because even at their worst, they’re still better than the alternatives and everyone knows it. YouTubers constantly post about being demonetized or copyright striked unfairly, it’s well known that the platform goes out of its way to cater to the content creators that it shouldn’t, and it’s even become something of a trend to point out how terrible the company is to both the viewers and the people making the videos. But YouTubers don’t go elsewhere, and neither do us viewers. And do you know why? Because there’s no where else to go.
I want to emphasize that this is not to YouTube’s credit. Big companies excel at crushing their competition, and I’m sure YouTube is no exception. I know one of the big “perks” of capitalism, so we’re told, is that there’s lots of competition and therefore lots of choices for consumers. If you don’t like how YouTube operates, you can just go somewhere else. If you don’t want to host your videos there anymore, go somewhere else. But that’s not how it works in reality.
Huge companies know that they wouldn’t be able to get away with the things they get away with if there was viable competition threatening their consumer base. Do you think that they acknowledge this understanding by improving their own service? No. Instead they stomp out the competition, make it so they never get the chance to grow the way the big companies grew, or afford the features and marketing that the big companies can afford. YouTube creators are constantly screwed over by the very platform they’re using, but they use it anyway because they know that it will always be the most viable option whether they like it or not, and it can treat them however it wants to. A weird, twisted corporate Stockholm Syndrome, you might say. It holds us captive, but we’ve grown to love it anyway.
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Bryanna Gary is the founder of The Angry Noodle and a current editorial assistant at Del Rey Books–science fiction, fantasy, and horror imprint of Penguin Random House.