Saturday, November 11, 2017

YouTube Advertisement Controversy

Phillip DeFranco, one of the first to draw attention to the
inconsistencies in YouTube's advertisement policies

Controversy:  Throughout much of 2017, YouTube, the popular video sharing and viewing website, has been embroiled in two controversies, with one major theme: their advertising policies.  The smaller of the issues came to light after the tragic Las Vegas shooting.  Many creators on YouTube sought to provide information about the horrible tragedy that befell our country, and planned to donate the money they would make off of the videos to the families and victims of the shooting.   It was in this rush of videos about the shooting that people began to catch on to a very bizarre and unethical business practice of YouTube.  Casey Neistat and Phillip DeFranco,  both very popular YouTubers noticed that their videos were demonetized, and that they would not be able to raise money for charity that way.   YouTube claimed that they had a policy of demonetizing all videos regarding tragedies.  While this sounds like a reasonable practice of YouTube, it simply isn't true.  Certain "whitelisted" or "priority" channels, such as Jimmy Kimmel, were able to post their videos about the horrific shooting, and were able to play ads before, during, or after their videos, all while YouTube claimed the very opposite.  On October 10th, YouTube said they were going to review their policies regarding advertisements, though much damage had already been done, due largely to another huge controversy regarding their advertisement policies.

Many have called it the YouTube adpocalypse, a portmanteau of advertisement and apocalypse.  This controversy is what led to the policies allowing YouTube to demonetize any video that was deemed "controversial".  With no explanation what this meant, hundreds of content creators on YouTube found that videos they had made were suddenly not playing advertisements, where they previously would have been able to.  YouTube had instated a policy which allowed companies to pull advertisements off of videos that were flagged for being controversial.  Again, this seems like a noble goal of YouTube, protect the companies that are placing ads on their site, so they cannot be linked to any controversy.  The underlying issue is the system was deeply flawed, in a way in which many could never have expected.  Thousands upon thousands of videos were flagged and demonetized, many of which had no grounds for being flagged.  But the largest issue arose when multimillion dollar companies found out about where their advertisements were being played.  As a result of their new policies, YouTube allowed the data regarding advertisements and their revenues to be made public.  Ads from companies such as PepsiCo, Wal-Mart, and Volkswagen, all found that their ads were playing before horrible, hateful videos, and as a result, financing those who were creating these videos.  Companies completely severed ties with YouTube, resulting in an estimated $750 million in lost revenue off of the advertisements for YouTube.

Companies fled YouTube after realizing their ads played before
controversial and offensive videos.

Shareholders:  One of the key stakeholders affected by this were the channels not whitelisted by YouTube, who's videos were demonetized, taking away money that the creators themselves were raising for the victims of the shooting, or money that had at other times been their only way of supporting themselves, as YouTube is a full-time job for many individuals. YouTube viewers are also affected by this, because they, as well as the content creators, were lied to by YouTube. YouTube itself is now backtracking and trying to fix its policies before more damage is done to their reputation, but with a history of concerns in its past, damage has been done to their credibility, seeming only to fix their policies when there is massive public outrage.  Another group who is largely damaged by the results of this ongoing controversy are the large companies who have now removed themselves from YouTube, costing YouTube an estimated $750 million.

Individualism:  In our text, Individualism is defined as "business actions should maximize profits for the owners of a business, but do so within the law" (Salazar, 17). This stance on ethics would likely not see much wrong with the practices of YouTube, as they are maximizing their profits by keeping their higher tier content creators happy. Lying is not directly illegal, though they were intentionally providing false information to people who make their living on YouTube. Though many others would see this lying as unethical, because it does not violate any laws, this would likely stand up under Individualist ideals.  The large issue with Individualism in this scenario comes about when we realize how much YouTube lost in advertisement revenue when losing some of their most valuable partners.  This is likely where Individualist thinking would deem this wrong, as it harms people, and does not maximize the gains of the company, rather costing them nearly one billion dollars. 

Chart showing the estimated impact of the YouTube advertisement boycott on
YouTube, as well as Google, its parent company
Utilitarianism:  The text defines Utilitarianism as "business actions should aim to maximize the happiness in the long run for all conscious beings that are affected by the business action" (Salazar, 17). This is absolutely not done by YouTube, not only harming the creators of the videos who were trying to raise funds for families affected by the shooting in Las Vegas, but the families and victims themselves, who will not be receiving as much aid for injuries and the death of their family members.  The creators are doubly harmed, in that they may be unable to generate profits off their channels, which for many people, is a full time job.  The companies who's ads were played before offensive, hateful, or controversial videos are also harmed, as they may have been linked to a hate group that they have absolutely no connection to.  The egregious lying of YouTube to everybody harmed many people, clearly not trying to maximize their happiness, and does not fall in line with the views of Utilitarianism.  

Kantianism:  Kantianism is defined in the text as "Always act in ways that respect and honor individuals and their choices. Don't lie, cheat, manipulate, or harm others to get your way. Rather, use informed and rational consent from all parties" (Salazar, 17). YouTube not allowing funds to be raised by advertisements from the majority of creators does not directly contradict the beliefs of Kantianism, but the lying about not placing advertisements on tragedies certainly does. They did lie to content creators and viewers, not only not making the creators any money from these videos, but YouTube itself still profits. YouTube also manipulated and hid information from companies like Starbucks and Volkswagen, who's ads were played before videos that were controversial in content, without knowing they would be indirectly financing these videos and their creators.  This manipulation and lying clearly does not follow the viewpoints of Kantianism.

Virtue Theory:   Virtue theory, as defined in our text, aims to "Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits." (Salazar, 17).  YouTube allowing certain creators who made deals with them to profit on videos about tragedies, while disallowing nearly all other channels to raise money, and then lying about it, is clearly not displaying good or virtuous character traits. Though the whitelisted channels themselves did nothing wrong, they played a part in YouTube's duplicity, even if their goal was the same as the many creators who's videos were demonetized. The hiding of information from companies, such as PepsiCo and Walmart, who had allowed YouTube to play their advertisements, and allowing them to be placed before videos that contained hateful or offensive content, is blatantly against the ethical values of Virtue Theory.  Those who follow the ethical field of virtue theory would not likely see the actions of YouTube as ethical.


1 comment:

  1. You did a very good job on outlining the extent of this youtube adpocalypse and its effect. I do feel you should go further into how this will effect the individual creator that depends on that income to survive. Also, there was an earlier adpocalypse this year when people playing violent video games getting next to no advertisement revenue due to advertiser not wanting to affiliated with these types of games.