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YouTube evolves throughout years of internet drama

The 2010s marked YouTube’s golden age with a height of innovative content and the creation of a global community. However, the past decade has been overwhelmed by scandals and foundational changes which have caused many to leave the platform behind. 

YouTube’s controversies highlighted a problem in the system

In 2017, YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, known as PewDiePie on the platform, became the center of shocking controversies surrounding hate speech and imagery that would lead to a complete change of the platform. 

Pewdiepie faced massive backlash for paying two men to hold up a sign saying “Death to all Jews” on a live stream on his channel, causing him to lose his partnership with Disney’s subsidiary, Maker Studios. 

Business Insider reached out to Maker Studios for comment, and a spokeswoman for the company said while Kjellberg’s content is generally provocative, “he clearly went too far in this case and the resulting videos are inappropriate. Maker Studios has made the decision to end our affiliation with him going forward.”

Pewdiepie was also dropped from YouTube’s preferred advertising platform, which serves as a direct way for advertisers to contact YouTube’s top creators. The site also canceled Season 2 of “Scare PewDiePie,” a reality show it had sponsored starring PewDiePie.

This sounded an alarm toward the content allowed on YouTube. Advertisers discovered in March of 2017 that their ads were placed over videos containing Neo-Nazi and ISIS propaganda. By May 2017, YouTube lost 5% of its top advertisers, resulting in millions of dollars in revenue loss.

YouTuber Logan Paul was also under fire at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 for recording and uploading a video of a deceased man in the Aokigahara forest in Japan. 

YouTube lived under a microscope for the next year, imposing new protocols that killed popular channels and led to many creators leaving the platform for bigger things.  

The “Adpocalypse” and the YouTuber Exodus 

In a video for the “Vlogbrothers” channel, online educator and science commentator Hank Green gave a rundown of YouTube’s ad system. YouTube depends on ads for money. To build their credibility, YouTube began implementing a stricter flagging system.

This flagging system categorized content into two categories: child-friendly and anything that may be deemed “Not Advertiser-Friendly.” Due to content not being necessarily family-friendly, many channels began to see their content restricted, with fewer ad placements and a lack of promotion on YouTube’s platform.

This then caused YouTubers — many of whom were using YouTube as a main source of income — to have to leave the platform for other work or turn to crowdfunding opportunities.

Popular YouTuber Liza Koshy left the platform in 2018 to focus on other opportunities outside of YouTube content creation. She has since gone on to have many acting gigs, including a role in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” creating her show, “Liza On Demand,” and becoming the first creator to host the Met Gala red carpet. 

Well-known creator Lilly Singh graduated from her status as a YouTuber and became the first queer woman of color to host a late-night talk show. 

Emma Chamberlain has become one of the biggest influencers in the world just seven years after she started vlogging on YouTube at age 15. She owns her own coffee company and hosted interviews on the Met Gala red carpet. 

Another side of the exodus of YouTubers was a new biased censorship created by its new flagging system.

Before leaving YouTube and the public eye in 2020 after 13 years on the platform, Tyler Oakley became the face of a long list of LGBTQIA+• creators whose content was unfairly restricted by YouTube. 

The Current State of YouTube

Many blame the “Adpocalypse” for “killing” YouTube. The stricter flagging system started flagging content that was deemed unsuitable for children. However, as was the case with Oakley and many other LGBTQIA+ creators, even educational content on LGBTQIA+ figures was taken down. 

This was exacerbated by the introduction of the “strike” system, which gave channels three strikes for inappropriate content, after which their channels would be removed from the platform. First strikes are typically warnings and can expire after 90 days if a creator undergoes policy training through Google. However, if content is deemed in violation of the same policy within that window, the channel still receives a strike. 

Many creators in marginalized communities have seen unfair flagging and restrictions on their content. This is an issue that has persisted to the 2020s. 

In 2022, CoryxKenshin, a Black YouTuber active on the platform since 2009, called out the platform for its biased censorship and limiting of content.

"Mortuary's Assistant," a popular horror game in the gaming community, was played and shared by Cory and others. Only Cory's video among all those released about the game was age-restricted afterward.

Cory appealed the restriction, which YouTube rejected. His YouTube representative reached out to YouTube after Cory pointed out that Markiplier, a major non-Black creator, had no age restriction on his video despite posting the same clip. Only then did YouTube remove Cory’s age restriction.

He reached out further through his YouTube representative with questions, sparked by the situation and previous feelings of mistreatment. In response, YouTube reinstated the age restriction for Cory's video and added one to Markiplier’s. 

Other major YouTubers like Jacksepticeye and Markiplier defended Cory and echoed his statements about favoritism on the platform. 

This highlighted YouTube’s favoritism in the following year when Cory’s video resurfaced after creator SSSniperwolf doxxed creator Jackfilms on her Instagram story. Doxxing refers to publishing private identifying information publicly. 

SSSniperwolf then showed up at the creator's home in the middle of the night and took a video of the house, captioning it, “Let's talk like adults.” This incident is a major violation of YouTube’s “Harassment and Cyber Bullying policy” but only resulted in the temporary demonetization of SSSniperwolf’s channel a week later.

YouTube also denounced behavior on both sides of the incident. YouTuber MoistCr1tikal called out YouTube for its “special treatment” of SSSniperwolf and its lack of a timely response to her infraction of YouTube’s policy. 

YouTube’s alleged favoritism, bias, limiting of ad placements and unfair flagging have caused many to leave the platform. Recently, major longstanding creators MatPat, CaptainSparklez and Tom Scott announced their retirement from YouTube to venture into other opportunities.

Others are switching to other platforms like Twitch and Kick

There is a new generation of YouTubers bringing life to the dying platform, however. Supernatural investigators Sam and Colby have sparked attention over their discoveries about the afterlife. 

MrBeast is currently the biggest YouTuber on the platform, known for his charities, special game events and his restaurant chain “MrBeast Burger.” AMP is also capturing the world’s attention, averaging 1-4 million views every video.

YouTube has served as a platform for pioneering entertainment and collaboration, shaping a global community of shared memories. YouTube’s golden age is long behind us; however, the hope of a renaissance of creative freedom may still be in the platform's future.


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