YouTube and its community are having a rough 2018. After vlogger Logan Paul posted a viral video of a recent suicide victim, widespread backlash forced the company to reconsider its policies. YouTube tightened its rules around which channels can be monetized in response and promised stricter punishments for creators whose actions harm the overall community. In a video released today, YouTuber and online personality Casey Neistat sat down with YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl to discuss the company’s response to the controversy and its recent changes.
The interview, recorded 12 days ago, does not cover Paul’s latest run-in with trouble and YouTube’s subsequent actions. Kyncl acknowledged that in initially dealing with Paul, the company was slow to respond with its “open letter” posted to Twitter. “We were trying to formulate our response, and of course with Logan and a lot of his projects for original productions, there are hundreds of people involved, people whose paychecks depend on it,” he says. “We don’t want to make a rash decision that impacts so many people’s livelihoods. It’s not just Logan. It’s many other people.”
Kyncl — who is responsible for creators and content partners — says YouTube is focused on finding ways for advertisers and content creators to succeed together. That explains some of YouTube’s decision to make its partner program requirements stricter, which includes 4,000 hours of watch time over the past 12 months, and at least 1,000 subscribers. “We think that this level is high enough for us to learn about the partner so that we can turn the ads on them and not disappoint advertisers, and at the same time it’s no so far out that it will be untenable and unreachable for [YouTubers],” Kyncl says.
“We want as many creators monetizing, but we also want to make sure that everybody who’s monetizing is doing the right thing, and is protected. Because if somebody doesn’t do the right thing in there, and advertisers react in a certain way, then all of you get punished. And that’s not a good outcome.”
But critics have been vocal about how platforms like YouTube foster a culture that encourages creators to be as provocative as possible. Drama gets hits. Or, as Neistat puts it: drama is rewarded with dollars. Kyncl says that YouTube wants to make sure that creators who make a living off the platform can do so without gaming a system. The company is thinking about how to “create the right incentives and disincentives for creators to do the right thing.” As for what the right thing means, it’s a layered response. “That means do the right things for advertisers,” he says. “Do the right things for their users, for the platform organically, and not chase sensationalism, not chase views for the sake of views, not use drama for the sake of views, and not use drama at our expense for the sake of views.”
YouTube is facing a reckoning. It operates under the ideal of freedoms: freedom for anyone to make a living on YouTube, freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom to create positive communities to belong to. Logan Paul has tarnished the company and the community’s reputation, yet it’s worth asking why he had that sort of power in the first place. The challenge YouTube faces now is to find the balance between its promises for creative freedom, and what it considers appropriate for the platform — and the advertisers whose money keeps it all afloat.