WTF – YouTube Has Modified Profanity Rules – Forbes

A video wouldn’t be eligible to run ads if there was swearing in the first 15 seconds. (Photo … [+] Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
After pushback from the creator community, YouTube is backing off profanity guidelines which saw some older videos demonetized out of the blue. The advertiser-friendly content guidelines, announced in November, limited ads or even completely demonetized a creator’s video if there was profanity within the first 15 seconds. The crackdown on foul language was part of a set of rules meant to ensure that videos on the platform were “suitable for advertisers.”
As the rules stood, a video wouldn’t be eligible to run ads if there was swearing in the first 15 seconds; while if the creator swears throughout “the majority of the video,” or curse words could be heard within the first seven seconds, the video could be demonetized entirely.
No doubt some creators may have responded to the rules by asking WTF?
However, after pushback from the creator community – which saw some older videos demonetized out of the blue – YouTube is now apparently listening to concerns. Certain “mild swearing” – “hell” and “damn” — won’t be counted as profane words, but all other profanity would now be lumped together.
For now, it appears creators will still have to tread carefully as YouTube has announced it will follow up shortly with an update on what will be allowed and what will get content demonetized.
“My sense from watching the creators react to this is that there are a range of complaints. First, that YouTube is retroactively demonetizing content. Second, that they change policies too often. Third, they are secretive and leave too much room for interpretation,” explained Dr. Clifford Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.
“It seems like all of these are a subset of a bigger friction, which is that content creators have very little power compared to YouTube,” Lampe added.
This same issue is true across social media, but YouTube creators may have vast archives that may suddenly not earn any revenue due to the new policies.
“There’s no agency or collective action for content creators, which means that there is little incentive for YouTube to really consider them in decision-making,” said Lampe. “While they are the product that YouTube is selling, you would think that would provide some of that leverage, but the universe of content creators is large and disorganized.”
As YouTube employs algorithms in its search for profanity, words that are “bleeped out” should not be an issue.
In recent years, YouTube has accounted for upwards of a third of all Internet traffic, while a 2022 report from Scientific Data found that about 4.9 billion Internet users worldwide watched billions of hours of online videos daily. YouTube has done a good job of monetizing that content – but it must increasingly tread a thin line between keeping content creators and advertisers satisfied.
“For this specific case, YouTube understands that profanity can hurt ad sales,” noted Lampe. “While they likely want creators to be expressive, their business is to sell ads. Therefore they are putting in big disincentives for creation that uses profanity. They outright block some other types of creator content, like adult content.”
The other consideration is how widespread profanity has become today, especially with the younger generations. This is notable in popular music, where the unedited versions of some songs might even make some boomers blush.
Likewise, profanity that was once merely in the domain of premium cable channels is now commonplace even in more mainstream content, and present across most streaming services – with Disney+ being a notable exception, and even infamously editing out an “F-bomb” from the PG-rated Adventures in Babysitting last year.
Yet, it would still appear that YouTube doesn’t want to risk running afoul of advertisers over foul language.
“I’m not sure profanity has lost any power,” said Lampe, who noted that the bigger issue may be how YouTube is even able to track it. “Machine learning tools for detecting profanity are often unsophisticated and have a hard time with the context in which profanity occurs.”