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Flags flying high, but what sort of videos is YouTube removing?

Youtube Logo

Flags flying high, but what sort of videos is YouTube removing?

Can you guess what has been done by more than 90 million people from 196 different countries in the last decade, and is an activity growing by 25% each year? You don’t have to get off your backside to do it, yet it affects the media transmitted and received by over a billion people worldwide.

According to a blog post from last week, this is the number of people who have flagged a YouTube video, and more than one in three of them have done it more than once. When a video is reported by a member of the YouTube community, Google (which owns YouTube) says it has a multilingual, round-the-clock team on the case that will review the content and take appropriate action. This might include placing an age restriction on the content, removing it completely if it’s deemed inappropriate, and even banning users’ accounts if they repeatedly violate YouTube’s policies.

You can see these policies on YouTube’s Community Guidelines page. They’re set out in a way that implies that they are open to a degree of interpretation, and terms like ‘common sense’ and ‘spirit’ are used. Generally speaking though, it’s hard to disagree with too much of what YouTube asks uploaders to avoid.

The most obvious misuse that YouTube won’t stand for is hate speech and terrorism, but according to the blog post, that only makes up about 1% of the videos wiped from the video sharing site. Perhaps it’s a relief that in a time when we’re rather obsessive about the threat of terrorism, YouTube is not detecting too much of it on what would undoubtedly be an effective medium for sharing it.

The issue of copyright is an interesting one. Since the birth of YouTube in 2005, perhaps the most aggressive pursuant of copyright infringement claims has been Viacom. In the late ‘00s, it seemed like every other video on the site had been removed following a complaint from the American media giant, which seemed to be displaying a somewhat petulant and regressive attitude to me. I even recall trying to watch an old TV advert on YouTube and finding it blocked by Viacom. What exactly did that achieve? Surely if you create an advert, you want it to be seen as widely as possible?

In 2014, a truce was finally agreed between the two companies, and Viacom, having previously tried to sue Google for $1bn (£770m), reportedly received nothing. Serves them right, I think!

Another violation mentioned in YouTube’s guidelines, and another thing I hate to see on the site, is spam. You may think that’s ridiculous, as all the content on there is something you watch out of choice, but a lot of worthless material is given misleading tags purely to attract viewers.

If you’ve ever tried to search YouTube for highlights of a recent football match, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. You’ll often get a video titled something like ‘Chelsea v Liverpool ALL GOALS’, alongside a thumbnail that looks like footballers in action, but on clicking it, the video is just a still image of a scene from a football match and a load of annotations instructing you to click a link to see highlights. If you do, you’ll be sent on a wild goose chase of junk-filled websites, popups and, more than likely, no football highlights.

YouTube has got a lot better at separating the wheat from the chaff in recent years. Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber, who was discovered as a result of his YouTube uploads, has joked that tagging videos with popular but irrelevant search terms like ‘cute kittens’ will get your videos liked and shared. It may have done when he was discovered in 2007, but today it would likely be well down the results list and Bieber might still be uploading videos of himself in his bedroom singing Ne-Yo covers. It’s a shame YouTube’s more sophisticated algorithms didn’t come sooner, you might say!

For this reason, if you do use YouTube for marketing, be honest with your potential viewers and don’t try to fool them into watching your videos. If they’re expecting cute kittens and they get a dry advert for insurance, they may well become one of the many folks flagging YouTube videos, leaving you at risk of having your video wiped from YouTube and, if you haven’t backed it up, possibly lost completely.

John Murray

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