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Irresponsible YouTube

6 April 2018

Earlier this week a woman with a gun ran amok in the YouTube headquarters building, shooting four people before taking her own life.

Whilst it's easy to dismiss this as just another one of those mass-shootings that have become a regular event in the country where everyone has a constitutional right to bear arms, I think it's something deserving of closer scrutiny.

The woman who did the shooting has been identified as Nasim Aghdam, the operator of a small but popular YouTube channel. She'd monetised the videos on her channel and was reliant on that income to support herself. In this respect she is like many thousands of other "full-time Tubers" who have invested heavily in building their channels to the point where they become the main source of income.

So what triggered Ms Aghdam's rampage?

And why did she choose YouTube headquarters as the place to start shooting?

Well according to reports, and a video she posted to her own channel, she was a victim of YouTube's wildly unpredictable and error-prone content filtering and demonetisation algorithms.

This woman was a fitness freak and a vegan so she posted a lot of exercise and life-coaching videos.

Sadly, YouTube's algorithms decided that many of those videos should either be restricted or demonetised.

In one video she posted, she bemoans the fact that even a simple exercise videos, featuring nothing more provocative than herself in full-body leotards doing basic exercise movements, were suddenly reclassified as "age restricted" and demoted in YouTube's rankings. She made the case that there are so many pop-music videos that are clearly focused on near-nudity and sexualised movement but they are not restricted so where is the fairness.

I have to say that I totally agree with her.

However, even when she filed an appeal, YouTube refused to budge and repeated their assertion that her exercise videos were "adults only". I've seen some of those videos and they are just what's claimed on the bottle... exercise videos. There's no way they could be remotely considered sexual or erotic in the way that many of today's modern pop vids are.

As a result of YouTube's screwed algorithms and review process, this woman suddenly found herself with virtually no revenues and, as a result, under huge financial stress.

This is where YouTube needs to take a lot of the responsibility for what they're doing.

YouTube is no longer just a video sharing site which can change its rules and make arbitrary decisions about what it's doing. YouTube is now effectively a huge employer and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people are in its hands. It has a responsibility (ethically and morally if not legally) to take into account the wellbeing of those who are now reliant on the revenues they earn via the service.

It's not like YouTube even gives notice most of the time that they're going to be making changes that could completely wipe-out someone's ability to earn a living. These changes often happen overnight and totally without warning.

For long-established content creators who have had time to salt away a little money for a rainy day, the sudden shutting down of their channels or revenues by YouTube may not be a crisis... but for the huge number of channels which survive hand-to-mouth on a month to month basis, the sudden loss of revenues is a death sentence.

Is it any wonder therefore that someone like Ms Aghdam went postal? She has probably been working very hard to create what she sees as a business that not only provides her with a way to support herself but also allows her to help others... then wham... the rug is pulled from under her feet. Is that really an ethical way for YouTube to act?

The thing that concerns me now is that many of the channels affected by YouTube's latest knee-jerk changes are gun channels.

YT has decided to demonetise or even close channels which promote some aspects of firearms and firearm use.

Seriously... is this a group you really want to piss off in the way you pissed off poor Ms Aghdam?

I'm sorry but it's now time for YouTube to face up to the fact that, by encouraging people to build businesses around their service, they now have additional responsibilities in respect to the decisions they make when running that service.

In this regard, YouTube management needs to take a very long, hard look at itself and accept at least some of the blame for the shootings that took place this week -- if they want to prevent a recurrance, or worse.

What do readers think?

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