Previously I've reviewed why the #YouTubeIsOverParty was an overreaction to a policy which was mostly good, but poorly explained. YouTube ( GOOG) ( GOOGL) is at it again with a new policy which has gotten viewers and creators angry with the website. As I have said, YouTube is mainly going to come up with ways to limit abuse on its platform. This isn't necessarily because the company hates free expression. Starting with a blank slate as a video sharing website, the only direction to go in is to limit certain types of videos to create an experience without spam and abuse. The other goals YouTube hopes to achieve by releasing new initiatives are expanding the time spent on the website and increasing monetization.
In the case of the new Heroes program, the initiative is not only poorly explained, but it's also a bad idea at face value. The hatred for this new program can be seen in the ratings of the video explaining it. On 2.8 million views there are over 800,000 dislikes. Anecdotally, I can't remember ever seeing such a high dislike to view count ratio. It also has less than 25,000 likes, so the like to dislike ratio is also terrible. I've seen several videos criticizing the initiatives. This proves the marketing of this program is bad. However, given that I think it's a bad idea, the marketing department is simply putting lip stick on a pig in this case.
Heroes Explained & Why It's Terrible
First I'll explain what the program is and then I'll critique it. The goal of Heroes is to delete YouTube videos which violate the terms of services of the website. Since YouTube is such a huge website, it relies on algorithms to do this instead of people working for the company. Algorithms don't work perfectly since an algorithm can't have the judgment of a human. Because of this flaw, YouTube created the Heroes program to get viewers to improve the website by flagging videos which violate YouTube's terms of services. It's cheaper to get volunteers to do this instead of paying workers, but there's a huge issue with the ability of viewers to be impartial which they have shown not to be in the past.
Specifically, the program has 5 levels which "heroes" have to go through, with rewards at each level. The way points which are needed to jump up the levels are earned is to do the following: add captions and subtitles to videos (1 point), accurately report abusive videos (1 point), and answer questions in the YouTube Help forum (best answers get 10 points). Adding subtitles and answering questions is great for the community. However, rewarding viewers for flagging videos is a bad idea because it can be abused. There is already abuse in flagging videos as users who don't like videos get together and mass flag videos.
This mass flagging triggers an automatic reviewal process which age restricts and demonetizes the video. If a big enough mob of people get together, they may be able to shut down a channel if it gets 3 strikes. The same thing happens on Twitter ( TWTR) as controversial opinions can trigger a massive amount of coordinated reporting of an account which can shut it down temporarily.
To use an analogy, imagine how terrible Seeking Alpha would be if readers could flag articles which they disagreed with. All bearish articles would be flagged and deleted from the website. The opinions of the minority are the ones which need protection. Controversial opinions need to be allowed for any media website to thrive.
The tasks volunteers are given to earn points isn't the worst part of the program. The worst part is the rewards given for reaching the levels. Most of the five levels have reasonable rewards such as the ability to test out new products and contact staff. However, on the third level "heroes" get the ability to mass flag content. This level requires only 100 points, so someone could provide 10 best answers in the YouTube forums and then be granted access to mass flag videos. This is potential weapon to suppress free expression. In the video explaining the Heroes program, the viewer flags random videos without even watching them which is an unthinkable concept.
Given that the qualifications to get to level 3 are so low, a perpetually offended person, a troll, or a child can get access to shut someone's channel down by mass flagging all of their videos. This ability should, at the least, be at the top of totem pole, since it can be abused so easily. YouTube wants to crack down on videos that violate terms of the website, but having vigilantes do the work is a bad idea.
Instead of having this program, YouTube could give the ability to mass flag to channels with large subscriber bases because generally they have the best interest of the website at heart. They wouldn't want to limit free speech because then their own speech would be limited. With that concept YouTube would need checks to avoid a YouTuber shutting down a channel he/she didn't like. Having videos be demonetized for false flagging would be a great hindrance. Threats to mass flag a channel's videos should also trigger demonetization of the person's channel who is issuing the threats. This would protect free speech.
The problem with YouTube Heroes is there's no consequence YouTube can levy on a random user for false flagging because they have nothing to lose. YouTube should also make it more difficult to demonetize videos on channels with large subscriber bases because of mass flagging since they have proven to be within the guidelines for a long period of time. My points are about giving creators more control. Viewers already have the power to rate, comment, and flag videos; they don't need more control of the website. Creators do not want to live with the risk of having their livelihood ruined over being too controversial.
Fix The Comment Section!
One issue which this program doesn't address is the comment section which is full of spam and abuse. There are a lot of ways to improve this and they are all simple. First YouTube needs to bring back down votes on comments to push down trolling and spam. The image of a thumbs down is next to comments, but it doesn't do anything. Secondly, YouTube should ban the ability to post links in the comments because they are generally spam. Thirdly, YouTube needs to stop people from using the same name as a content creator because this is impersonation.
Fourthly, YouTube should give creators better features to control comments, namely the ability to block commenters from commenting. The feature which aims to do this now, doesn't prevent a user from using his/her Google Plus account to comment on threads; it only prevents original posts from being able to be made. Google Plus may need to be divorced from YouTube to get this to work properly. Finally, YouTube should allow content creators to appoint moderators on their channel to delete abusive comments.
In the past, I have talked about the possibility of Alphabet buying Twitter. Now these rumors are once again percolating. As I have said, YouTube could implement Twitter into the YouTube comment section. We have seen Twitter act as a comment section in the livestreaming of NFL games, so it may be implemented with YouTube. At the least, it can be implemented in livestreams on YouTube. Personally, I worry about Alphabet owning Twitter because of the power it will have over the regulation of content. I hope free speech is respected by the potentially combined company.
YouTube Heroes is a new program created by YouTube to allow volunteers to police videos. This has the potential for abuse which is why the video has over 800,000 thumbs down. YouTube actually disabled the comment section on this video which is ironic because YouTube knew the comment section would be bad yet hasn't done anything to fix it. You would think YouTube recognizes the comment section needs to be fixed if it disabled it, but its product announcements don't show this awareness.
At this point, all of YouTube's new changes are being dismissed by creators and users. It is bad for YouTube to have a bad relationship with its creators. It will be interesting to see the uproar from creators if Alphabet buys Twitter and integrates it with YouTube. Hopefully, YouTube listens to creators and puts stricter limits on who can mass flag videos. The risk to investors is YouTube creators and viewers leaving the website because videos were taken down which didn't violate any rules. YouTube creators are on high alert because the copyright system has been abused in the past. This is when a video which was critical of another party was claimed to violate copyrighted material just because the party didn't like being criticized.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.