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“How advertiser-friendly is my video?”: YouTuber’s Socioeconomic Interactions with Algorithmic Content Moderation

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To manage user-generated harmful video content, YouTube relies on AI algorithms (e.g., machine learning) in content moderation and follows a retributive justice logic to punish convicted YouTubers through demonetization, a penalty that limits or deprives them of advertisements (ads), reducing their future ad income. Moderation research is burgeoning in CSCW, but relatively little attention has been paid to the socioeconomic implications of YouTube's algorithmic moderation. Drawing from the lens of algorithmic labor, we describe how algorithmic moderation shapes YouTubers' labor conditions through algorithmic opacity and precarity. YouTubers coped with such challenges from algorithmic moderation by sharing and applying practical knowledge they learned about moderation algorithms. By analyzing video content creation as algorithmic labor, we unpack the socioeconomic implications of algorithmic moderation and point to necessary post-punishment support as a form of restorative justice. Lastly, we put forward design considerations for algorithmic moderation systems.
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PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 5, No. CSCW2, Article 429, Publication date: October 2021.
“How advertiser-friendly is my video?”: YouTuber’s
Socioeconomic Interactions with Algorithmic Content
Moderation
RENKAI MA,
Pennsylvania State University, USA
YUBO KOU,
Pennsylvania State University, USA
To manage user
-
generated harmful video content, YouTube relies on AI algorithms (e.g., machine
learning) in content moderation and follows a retributive justice logic to punish convicted YouTubers
through demonetization, a penalty that limits or deprives them of advertisements (ads), reducing their
future ad income. Moderation research is burgeoning in CSCW, but relatively li!le a!ention has been paid
to the socioeconomic implications of YouTube’s algorithmic moderation. Drawing from the lens of
algorithmic labor, we describe how algorithmic moderation shapes YouTubers’ labor conditions through
algorithmic opacity and precarity. YouTubers coped with such challenges from algorithmic moderation by
sharing and applying practical knowledge they learned about moderation algorithms. By analyzing video
content creation as algorithmic labor, we unpack the socioeconomic implications of algorithmic
moderation and point to necessary post
-
punishment support as a form of restorative justice. Lastly, we put
forward design considerations for algorithmic moderation systems.
CCS Concepts:
Human-centered computing Collaborative and social computing Empirical
studies in collaborative and social computing
KEYWORDS:
Content moderation; algorithmic moderation; YouTube moderation; socioeconomics;
algorithmic labor; YouTuber
ACM Reference format:
Renkai Ma and Yubo Kou. 2021. “How advertiser
-
friendly is my video?”: YouTuber’s Socioeconomic
Interactions with Algorithmic Content Moderation. In PACM on Human Computer Interaction
,
Vol. 5,
CSCW2, Article 429, October 2021.
ACM, New York, NY, USA. 25 pages. h!ps://doi.org/10.1145/3479573
1 INTRODUCTION
YouTube has become the largest video-sharing platform. “Broadcast Yourself,” YouTube’s
slogan, implies this platform is primarily for ordinary people who want to create and share
videos, and two billion registered users
1
worldwide today can post video content or consume
others’ content. Those video content creators (or YouTubers) can also join the YouTube Partner
This work is partially supported by the National Science Foundation, under grant no. 2006854.
Author’s addresses: Renkai Ma (renkai@psu.edu) and Yubo Kou (yubokou@psu.edu), College of Information Sciences
and Technology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, 16802, USA
1
https://www.omnicoreagency.com/youtube-statistics/
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https://doi.org/10.1145/3479573
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Program (YPP)
2
to earn advertisement (ad) revenue, which refers to ‘monetization’ where video
creation and sharing become profits
3
[56,73]. Nowadays, more YouTubers’ livelihoods rely upon
the business of making videos on YouTube [2,15,17,50]. Thus, while content creation on
commonly examined platforms like Reddit and Twitter is usually framed along the line of free
expression, content creation on YouTube is distinct in how it is weaved into the platform
economy and manifests as a form of digital labor [73,82].
But not all video content is advertiser-friendly, and not all labor is deemed worthy of
compensation. Particularly, harmful content such as hate speech and racism [63] is detrimental
to both YouTube’s business model and its user community. Like other social media sites,
YouTube also wrestles with the grim challenge of content moderation [39]. Content moderation
refers to online governance mechanisms that regulate inappropriate content such as hate
speech, harassment, and violence to facilitate cooperation and prevent abuse [44]. CSCW and
HCI researchers have focused on sociotechnical aspects of content moderation, such as
sociotechnical mechanisms of moderation or social practices of moderators [47,48,95,96]. For
example, on Reddit, voluntary human workers in their subreddits can manually moderate or
utilize machine learning algorithms to regulate harmful content [47]. Twitter exclusively relies
on voluntary users to report harmful tweets, and then algorithms handle them behind the
scenes [20].
However, what is less discussed in the literature is the socioeconomic implication of content
moderation: YouTube’s content moderation economically punishes YouTubers, its laborers.
Once a YouTuber is determined to have created harmful content, YouTube would demonetize
4
their user accounts or videos, eventually denying them from earning more future ad revenue
through limited or no ads placed on videos. Currently, little attention has been paid to
understand YouTubers’ socioeconomic interactions with algorithmic moderation or, in other
words, how YouTubers interact with the socioeconomic punishments (i.e., demonetization)
caused by YouTube moderation.
To answer this question, we gathered and analyzed discussion data from the ‘r/youtube’
5
subreddit, nearly the largest YouTube-related online community today. Utilizing an inductive
thematic analysis [59], we identified how YouTubers perceived, experienced, and reacted to
algorithmic moderation punishments. We found that opacity of algorithmic punishments
existed in multiple layers, and such opacity led YouTuber’s video creation work to be
precarious. Also, YouTubers sought to cope with moderation punishments, in a reflexive
manner, by gradually gaining and applying practical knowledge of algorithms. Drawing from
the lens of algorithmic labor [79], a form of digital labor associated with sophisticated
algorithmic systems, we discuss a socioeconomic understanding of algorithmic moderation on
YouTube and how YouTubers shared and received support to speculate, make sense of, and
reflect on algorithmic penalties, informing their behaviors of repairing and avoiding future
punishments. We then showed how peer and platform support could serve as a restorative
2
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/72851?hl=en
3
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/72857?hl=en
4
Demonetization is an idiomatic term and a moderation outcome describing the decrease or deprivation of future ad
income due to various YouTube moderation such as limited advertisements (ads), no ads, copyright infringement, age-
restriction, or other moderation decisions. Many YouTubers frequently refer to demonetization exclusively as one
moderation decision, ‘limited ads,’ where YouTube deem that most advertisers are not willing to place ads on those
videos. However, as we stated, multiple moderation decisions could cause demonetization penalty/outcome.
5
https://www.reddit.com/r/youtube/
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justice means. Ultimately, we put forward design considerations for algorithmic moderation
systems.
This research contributes to the CSCW literature by 1) initially investigating the user
experience of content moderation from the angle of video content creators, 2) providing
empirical evidence and conceptual understandings of how YouTubers interact with algorithmic
content moderation, 3) implicating design considerations of algorithmic systems to be more
transparent and accountable in content moderation, and 4) connecting CSCW research on social
media’s content moderation with socioeconomic perspectives, beyond the often discussed
sociotechnical aspects.
2 BACKGROUND: Socioeconomic Content Creation, Content Policy on YouTube
YouTube is unique in its socioeconomic features of video content creation. Socioeconomics here
denotes that economic activities mutually affect social behaviors [21,45]. By joining the
YouTube Partner Program (YPP), YouTubers can earn revenue from the advertisements (ads)
inserted within their videos. Ad revenue is calculated based on the viewing quantity of videos;
YouTubers’ videos can catch more new audiences’ attention when YouTubers directly and
effusively interact with audiences [7], indicating more social engagement behaviors around
videos could lead to higher ad revenue. By interacting more with audiences, YouTubers can be
aware of what videos could be more lucrative by suiting viewer tastes, forming the
socioeconomic content creation on YouTube.
YouTubers might create harmful content, which is a consistent issue for YouTube. YouTube
comprehensively classified multiple harmful content topics in its AdSense Google publisher
policy
6
, community guidelines
7
, and advertiser-friendly content guidelines (ACG)
8
. All these
content policies explicitly prohibit videos containing harmful content such as harassment [103],
sexist hate speech [25,26], sexually suggestive materials, and terrorism [65,84]. One example of
harmful content is that the YouTuber Logan Paul uploaded a video titled “We found a dead body
in the Japanese Suicide Forest” in 2018 and showed graphic footage of a suicided victim’s body
in Japans Aokigahara forest [54]. Another example is that Carlos Maza, a Vox media journalist,
demanded YouTube to punish the YouTuber Steven Crowder in 2019 because his videos
contained more than two years of harassment and homophobic hate speech on Carlos’s sexual
orientation and ethnicity [90].
To alleviate or prevent the negative effects of YouTubers’ harmful content, YouTube
consistently tightens content policies. YouTube frequently modifies its ACG to protect its
advertisers. For instance, “YouTube Adpocalypse,” an internet slang describing a phenomenon
where advertisers stop their advertisements (ad) on YouTube because specific bad content
harms their brand image, triggers YouTube to introduce stricter content policies
9
. Similarly,
YouTube updates content policies to resonate with governmental requirements, indirectly
benefiting advertisers. For instance, in September 2019, “the US’s Federal Trade Commission
issued a $170 million fine against Google for alleged violations of the children’s online privacy
protection act (COPPA)” [3]. YouTube thus released a new content policy requiring all
YouTubers worldwide to set targeted audiences for their channels and videos between tags of
6
https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/9335564
7
https://www.youtube.com/howyoutubeworks/policies/community-guidelines/#developing-policies
8
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/6162278?hl=en
9
https://youtube.fandom.com/wiki/YouTube_Adpocalypse
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“made for kids” and “not made for kids.”
10
Collectively, improving content policy can help
YouTube maintain its social and business image among audiences (i.e., advertisers’ potential
customers [106]) and advertisers, ensuring future videos on YouTube to be acceptable and
advertiser-friendly.
3 RELATED WORK
We situate our study in prior scholarship regarding algorithmic content moderation on social
media, debates of its transparency, user behaviors after moderation punishments, and
algorithmic labor of video content creation.
3.1 Algorithmic Content Moderation and Its Socioeconomic Eects
Content moderation on social media usually needs to balance cost and efficiency [44]. Given the
sheer and increasing volume of user-generated content on social media, there are not enough
human moderators available to scrutinize each new piece of content [20,47]. Also, manually
moderating content is generally time-consuming and impossible for practice [89]. Thus, many
social media platforms have turned to AI algorithms (e.g., machine learning) [10,43,62] to
automate content moderation, at least partially. For example, Facebook uses algorithmic tools to
flag group-join requests from identified spam users automatically [70]. Twitch, a live streaming
platform, uses automatic moderators to regulate content in the chatrooms between live
streamers and audiences [86].
Algorithmic content moderation takes multiple sociotechnical forms on social media. In the
aspect of technical design, social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter relies
on different machine learning algorithms to regulate users’ content [4,43,47,62]. For example,
platforms frequently use natural language processing, speech recognition, or sentiment analysis
to recognize harmful content and fake news [41]. Regarding moderation’s power allocations,
human moderators can play an important role: voluntary users or commercially trained flaggers
employed by social media companies manually flag or review userscontent [20].
Content moderation affects users primarily through punishments, ranging from content
removal to user account suspension [35]. For instance, social media can also shadow-ban
accounts, which means users can still post content without recognizing the punishments, but
their content will be invisible to other users until moderators approve [14,19,66]. Social media
like Instagram or Tumblr can also ban hashtags and the associated discussions, where
punishments are executed on a platform level, affecting all platform users. Moderation
punishments can influence users’ future behaviors in significant ways [66] and have been
criticized for heavily censoring free expression [92].
What is distinctive about content moderation on YouTube is that its algorithmic
punishments have socioeconomic implications. Once YouTubers violate content policies, they
would experience not only sociotechnical forms of moderation similar to other social media
users but also a socioeconomic punishment: demonetization [13], referring to deducting or
deprive the future ad revenue of a video or YouTuber channel. Given the concept of
socioeconomics that economic activities mutually affect social actions [21,45], demonetization
impacts might motivate punished YouTubers to adjust their future behaviors to weaken such
demonetization effects [13] for steady ad income.
10
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9527654
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While previous moderation literature has explored the sociotechnical implications of
moderation on platform users’ experiences, relatively little attention has been paid to the
intersections of algorithmic moderation and socioeconomic impacts. This study seeks to address
this gap at the angle of content creators.
3.2 Algorithmic Transparency and Post-Punishment Behavior
Social media platforms have been criticized for the limited transparency of their algorithmic
content moderation [33,53,74]. Researchers pointed out that platforms moderate users and their
content in a murky way without enough explanations [39]. For instance, Juneja et al. [52]
discovered that Reddit’s moderation violated Santa Clara Principles (SCP) of Transparency and
Accountability
11
in aspects including an absence of explanations for removed content and
ambiguous removal led by implicit community norms instead of content policies.
Moderation explanations are deemed important in helping the user understand moderation
mechanisms. Moderation decisions are generally accompanied by short, formal, and ambiguous
explanations [39]. Sometimes, online communities’ content policies are also vaguely worded.
This less transparent moderation could make social media users feel unfair and frustrated [46],
lead them to generate folk theories for their future online operations [32], or develop biased
beliefs to explain moderation decisions [66]. Recent research has pointed out that the provision
of explanations helped users clearly understand content policies. One example is that Jhaver et
al. [48] found that when provided moderation explanations, Reddit users were then intended to
learn explicit content guidelines in specific subreddits. Also, Kou and Gui [57] further pointed
out that explanations should include community context (e.g., shared values, knowledge, and
community norms) to make users understand how algorithms could work better for end-users.
A good explanation should be generated by an explainable decision-making process of
algorithms. One of the challenges in HCI research and practice grounded by Shneiderman et al.
is that novel systems should allow users to understand invisible algorithmic processes to better
control their future actions [88]. Resonating with this call, various interests have uncovered the
importance of human-AI collaboration to improve the trust of algorithmic decision-making [97].
For example, Wang et al. tested how different explanation types produced by explainable AI
(XAI) systems support users’ reasoning to improve trust for the system and mitigate users’
cognitive bias [98]. Similarly, moderation systems that were found to provide explanations of
appeal can improve users’ perceptions of fairness, trust, and transparency [95].
Parallelly, more studies have started to investigate how social media users cope with
moderation after experiencing moderation punishments. For example, Jhaver et al. [48] found
on Redditt, more explanations provided in algorithmic moderation were associated with more
users’ content-generating behaviors complying with content policies. Cobbe [18] theoretically
summarized two strategies of successfully resisting algorithmic content moderation on social
media: everyday resistance and organized resistance [83]. Everyday resistance refers to small-
scale and relatively safe circumventing activities. Like what Gerrard [38] unearthed, punished
users could evade platform policies to develop alternative hashtags on Instagram and Tumblr.
Besides, organized resistance means that collective behaviors undermine the power of social
media’s algorithmic content moderation. For instance, Chancellor et al. [16] found that users
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https://santaclaraprinciples.org/
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could collectively form closed societal groups to avoid future moderation attention on
Instagram.
Particularly, socioeconomic punishments from YouTube’s algorithmic moderation have been
reported to be opaque. On the one hand, how YouTube decides a video as “unsuitable for
advertisers” does not necessarily align with advertisers’ attitudes [40]; at the same time,
YouTube demonetizes videos that contain sensitive topics (e.g., subjects related to the war or
natural disasters), forming a disincentive for news disseminating among audiences [22]. On the
other hand, little is known about YouTube’s moderation algorithms. YouTube’s algorithms are
the “black-box” where people hardly know how demonetization decisions are made [75]. For
instance, YouTube might unfairly demonetize videos in different languages [72]. Researchers
and journalists have also accumulated ample evidence of how content produced by minority
groups is disproportionately demonetized without sufficient explanations [34,100].
So far, little is known as to how YouTubers’ subjective experiences with their socioeconomic
punishments. One exception is that Caplan [13] primarily investigated YouTube videos to
understand YouTube’s tiered governance where YouTube was deemed to unfairly demonetize
and disproportionally distribute resources between small and large YouTubers (i.e., with large
subscription number). However, by standing at the (video) content creator’s perspective, there is
still a lack of systematic investigations on how YouTubers perceive and learn from the
algorithmic moderation’s decisions as well as how they handle the socioeconomic punishment,
namely demonetization. This study aims to fill this research gap.
3.3 Video Content Creation as Algorithmic Labor
Prior literature on social media moderation has oftentimes framed users’ content creation
activity primarily as a form of expression. For example, West’s survey study of users who
experienced content moderation drew primarily from “the lens of free expression” [66] to make
a nuanced case for how we should understand content moderation’s other implications, such as
users’ affective relationships with platforms, users’ agency in interacting with platforms, and
the educational potential of future moderation systems. Chancellor et al.’s linguistic analysis of
pro-eating disorder content also considered user-generated content as speech and developed a
large-scale quantitative analysis of the content’s lexical variation [16]. However, on YouTube,
users do not just make speeches through their video creation. Their video creation is a form of
digital labor [73]: Even if some of them do not intend to profit from it, their work is still
organically incorporated into the platform economy of YouTube they provide immaterial
labor for YouTube.
Researchers have long investigated how algorithms mediate labor. For example, Raval and
Dourish’s study of ridesharing workers showed how Uber and Lyft drivers must strive for a
better rating determined by the ridesharing algorithms [76]. Through Uber’s central algorithmic
system, power and information asymmetries arise as they surveil and shape drivers’ behaviors
[79]. On YouTube, Youtubers are also engaged and enmeshed in webs of algorithms. YouTubers
need to acquire and benefit from knowledge about how video recommendation algorithms work
[4,8,9,104]. Digital influencers, a category of algorithmic laborers, have to figure how the
algorithmic rules on Instagram in order to enhance their visibility and subsequently profit [19].
The algorithmic labor literature has explored how the primary algorithmic mechanisms, such
as work allocation and recommendation, shape content creators’ labor conditions. However,
given that social media platforms have historically placed moderation concerns at the periphery
of their business logic [39], it is somewhat unsurprising that little attention has been paid to the
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labor implications of moderation algorithms. Thus, in this paper, we use the lens of algorithmic
labor to examine YouTubers’ video creation work, with a focus on how their labor is
intertwined with moderation algorithms.
4 METHODS
4.1 Data Collection
In this study, we used discussion data of the ‘r/youtube’ subreddit. It is the largest online
community having more members than any other YouTube-related forums such as yttalk
12
.
YouTubers’ online discussions could contain abundant experiences they share naturally and
directly. Besides, online discussions could uncover how YouTubers interact with algorithmic
moderation collectively and show how they communicate and collaborate.
We iteratively fetched relevant threads discussing YouTube moderation from ‘r/youtube.’
We ran the package ‘RedditExtractoR’ [77] on R 4.0.4 to fetch the threads by relevant keywords.
Upon Reddit’s API, this package allowed us to filter out all historical threads having specific
keywords in either content, user comments, or titles. Therefore, we first generated a
preliminary list of keywords. We synthesized the keywords related to YouTube’s content
moderation from the literature discussing social media content moderation (e.g.,
[20,36,47,52,66,95]) and YouTube content moderation (e.g., [4,13]), as well as relevant media
reports (e.g., [1,67]). We generated the initial keywords: {moderate, censor, ban, delete, violate,
suspend, demonetize, remove, shadowban, terminate, algorithm, transparent, ad-friendly
(advertiser friendly), flag, appeal}. We then searched by all forms of keywords (e.g., for the word
“demonetize,” it corresponds to demonetize, demonetized, and demonetization) to ensure search
resultscompleteness. After removing duplicates by each unique combination of comment and
comment date, we fetched an initial dataset containing 2,779 threads associated with 60,310
individual comments.
Second, we consistently searched relevant threads to make sure the dataset was as
comprehensive as possible. We randomly read 50 threads to generate complementary keywords
from this initial dataset. The purpose of this action is to include more contextual and spoken
keywords that YouTubers often used to describe content moderation. Those additional
keywords, {bot, restore, scan, re-scan (rescan), yellow monetization, swear (swearing)
13
}, are for
the second-round search. We continued this process to add additional keywords to iteratively
search more threads until the dataset became saturated [11], indicating there would be no new
information provided. This iterative data collection process aimed to tolerate a false-positive
rate where any data points mistakenly identified can be collected to generate a more
informative dataset.
Third, we did two steps of data preprocessing operations. We calculated each comment's
length and then deleted the comments with a length of fewer than 50 characters because we
found these comments conveyed limited meanings, such as short replies to other users, asking
questions, or posting with links. For example, these posts could be agreeing with others by
commenting, “Yeah, seems like YouTube is getting worse now...” and “Ahhhh, ok, thanks a lot
for the clarification!!! :)”. We then repetitively retrieved all threads by keywords and reviewed
each thread with its posted text to determine whether it was related to content moderation;
12
https://yttalk.com/
13
YouTubers use curse words such as damn,and “hell” in their videos.
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unrelated threads and their associated comments were removed. For example, one of the
irrelevant posts discussed the rumor that YouTube plans to remove the dislikebutton.
The final dataset contained 3,086 threads and the associated 36,279 comments. It had
variables including ‘comment date,’ ‘the number of comments in the thread, ‘comment text,’
‘title of the thread,’ and ‘the posted text of thread.’ In detail, the comment date ranged from
June 8, 2012, to December 23, 2020, and the average number of comments of each thread was
around 21.82.
4.2 Data Analysis
We used an inductive thematic analysis [59] to probe the research question. The data analysis
was processed by the same researchers who collected the data. We started to consistently read
from the top 100 most discussed threads and their comments to the least commentated ones (i.e.,
threads that have no comments) and ran the ‘open coding’ to generate first-level codes. In this
process, we focused on the discussion data explicitly disclosing posters’ identities as either
YouTubers or audiences. We labeled each code to be associated with correspondingly sentences
or paragraphs to classify findings from the analysis process. Simultaneously, the authors ran
‘axial coding’ to collaboratively connect codes to build up higher-level concepts, where we
resonated with prior studies if they were related. In this process, we also allowed new codes
emerging from consistently reviewing data to genialize new themes. We ultimately finalized the
analysis by both exerting selective codingto connect higher concepts and thus acquiring a
sound thematic closed loop, providing satisfactory and informative concepts for the research
question.
We integrated and distilled into three high-level themes for the research question in the
repetitive rounds of coding. These themes included “Being Confused in Algorithmic Opacity”
(discussed in Section 5.1), “Managing Algorithmic Precarity” (Section 5.2), and “Learning and
Applying Algorithmic Know-How” (Section 5.3).
4.3 Ethics Statement
We believe our study utilizing discussion data on the ‘r/youtube’ subreddit imposed minimal
ethical risk to YouTubers and Reddit users. After our university’s Institutional Review Board
(IRB) approved this study, we performed data collection and analysis. We removed user
information such as usernames and the URLs of posts, so the dataset did not contain any
personally identifiable information. When presenting the findings, we paraphrased each quote
to decrease its searchability on Redditt and used the singular “they” pronoun to interpret data,
further assuring our datasets anonymity.
5 FINDINGS: How do YouTubers Interact with Algorithmic Moderation?
By examining YouTuber’s discussions regarding socioeconomic punishments, we uncovered
three primary themes. YouTubers were confused to varied degrees due to the opacity of
punishments. Such algorithmic opacity led their video creation labor on YouTube to be
precarious. YouTubers then sought to handle past punishments and avoid future moderation
risks, in a reflexive manner, by gaining and applying algorithmic know-how.
5.1 Being Confused in Algorithmic Opacity
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Algorithmic opacity in moderation refers to the situations where YouTubers who experienced
algorithmic punishments felt confused and had no clues of how algorithms made decisions.
Even if the adjudication of a moderation case is clear-cut to most people, the YouTuber who
received the penalty could experience it differently and feel confused. We found that YouTubers
experienced algorithmic opacity at multiple layers. Moderation decisions could sometimes
puzzle the ordinary audience. One viewer wrote:
I do not post videos. I do not comment on anything. I watch makeup videos, clothing
hauls, music, and random video game. There are zero reasons I should have my
account suspended. I would love to know because I literally just watch videos.
The viewer perceived opaque moderation. Although the viewer believed they used YouTube
in benevolent ways, the platform’s moderation made a seemingly opposite decision. If a certain
type of content triggered the moderation action, they would be able to reason about the
moderation rationale. But in this case, the viewer could not associate any prior behavior with
the punishment. While it is possible that this viewer here might not have fully disclosed the
information they received, their confusion on algorithmic decisions was still a valid human
experience.
Many YouTubers reported that they experienced algorithmic penalties without promised
warnings beforehand. For example, one YouTuber wrote:
My channel has been automatically suspended without any warning. I received the first
email with no explanation. Then after I sent another email, they said it was based on
community guidelines. I reviewed the guidelines, and I did not violate any of those
things. If I did, I received no strikes or warnings like they promised to do.
In this quote, ‘strike’ refers to a violation notification from YouTube. The YouTuber here
showed three occasions of experiencing the opacity of YouTube moderation. First, the YouTuber
received nothing even though the policies said there would be warnings (i.e., strikes)
beforehand. Second, insufficient or unconvincing explanations were provided after account
suspension punishment. Third, the explanations provided by the YouTube service team were
perceived as unconvincing to the YouTuber. This example resonated with how AI-based
systems' explanations might fail to support user’s reasoning [98].
When experiencing algorithmic moderation perceived as inaccurate, YouTubers suspected
that algorithmic mechanisms needed more training data (i.e., video content). Still, because of
moderation systems complexity and insufficient explanation provision, YouTubers would
perceive algorithms as opaque to understand, which resonates with the opacity of algorithmic
moderation that researchers found on Reddit [47,52]. But what intensified such opacity was the
moderation irregularity YouTubers experienced. One YouTuber wrote:
I did have one of my flagged videos suddenly go back to being monetized last week, but
within an hour or two, it was back to being flagged again. So, I am not sure if that was
a sign of the bot learning and then re-flagging for some other reason or if it was just a
slight glitch with the site.
The flag here refers to the demonetization penalty, ‘limited ads.’
14
In the above case, the
YouTuber might expect the algorithms to be consistent with the time dimension where each
video was supposed to experience a one-time algorithmic inspection. They did not appeal to tell
14
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/9269824?hl=en
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the bot if its demonetization penalties were perceived wrong. Instead, the bot here imposed
penalties and corrected mistakes irregularly. This irregularity caused the YouTuber to speculate
about how algorithms worked behind automated penalties. This example showed the YouTuber
believed that bots needed time to learn from video data but still expressed their confusion on
algorithmic decision-making over time.
When algorithmic punishments were accompanied with explanations, they often appeared
insufficient to YouTubers. One YouTuber quoted from an email that YouTube sent to them and
interpreted:
Your account has been terminated as a result of repeated abusive, hateful, and/or
harassing comments that violate our community guidelines." Stupidly vague. It seems
everyone gets the same message. They do not tell you which post or posts you made
that were reported and how they violated community guidelines. At the very least,
they could screenshot the post that was reported. Nope. Nothing.
This YouTuber described their experience of account suspension for violating community
guidelines without being informed with detailed reasons. They also observed a general
phenomenon that YouTubers typically received similarly phrased moderation reasons. As Stohl
et al. [91] suggested, moderation systems should offer the appropriate degree of information.
Here, the YouTube platform did not specify which part of the video violated content policies.
Instead, its explanations were generic and not situated in specific cases. These frequent
complaints manifested the low confidence of explanation caused the YouTuber’s negative
sentiments toward the opacity of YouTube moderation. While the YouTuber here might hide
critical information or keywords in the moderation explanation, the moderation algorithms
seemly failed to reach the goals of human interpretability [27], generating confusion.
When YouTubers appealed past penalties, they often received a response inconsistent with
their expected repairing process for moderation punishments. One YouTuber wrote:
My channel with 20,000 subs being suspended. I have since filed an appeal but received
an automated email response stating that they have decided to uphold the ban after
only reviewing for 3 minutes.
Here, ‘appeal’
15
originally refers to applying for a human review process to double-check the
said violation. The YouTuber here claimed that they received the email that seemed to be an
automated response. The human review, as the YouTuber thought, would take enough time to
process. However, the appeal result was delivered within a short time, which conflicted with the
YouTuber’s shared sense of understanding of the appeal process. The “three minutes” here
might be a sign that YouTube might have utilized algorithms for the appeal process. While the
YouTuber here did not disclose the email details, this case showed the confusion and
dissatisfaction caused by the opaque moderation explanations.
Additionally, opaque moderation occurred when YouTubers perceived differential treatments
based on their fanbase. Some YouTubers claimed they experienced uneven punishments than
other YouTubers, especially those largely subscribed by viewers. For example, one YouTuber
replied to the other one who experienced demonetization due to inappropriate language use:
Why can I find so many videos from these bigger channels that are violating
guidelines? I can find an entire playlist of YouTuber A’s videos that violate your
15
https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/7083671?hl=en
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inappropriate language mark. It feels like these rules are being unevenly applied when
small channels are mostly hit the bot.
Here, we used YouTuber A to refer to the YouTuber celebrity who was mentioned in this
comment. In this quote, the YouTuber compared the thread poster’s videos with several famous
YouTubers’ ones and described the observations where algorithmic punishments were imposed
unequally between small and large video creators, also resonating with Caplan’s findings [13].
The example here might involve personally uneven sentiment; however, this perceived
unevenness also resonated with many media reports. For example, a large YouTuber, Logan
Paul, had a problematic video that had remained on YouTube’s recommendation trending before
it was removed. Even this video was finally taken down by Logan himself [69]; his case showed
the observed uneven moderation between YouTubers without sufficient explanations. These
examples here reflected that limited transparency in algorithmic moderation caused it
implausible for YouTubers to confirm or evaluate differential treatments but with confusion.
5.2 Managing Algorithmic Precarity
Algorithmic precarity refers to how algorithmic moderation engenders the work uncertainty of
video content creation. Below is an example:
My channel has 155,000 Subscribers, and over half of my videos were initially marked,
lowering my ad revenue by close to 90%. I am sitting at 1/4th the revenue than before.
Now I have gotten over 100 old videos approved, with one being marked not
advertiser-friendly, as an example of how badly the bots are getting it wrong.
This YouTuber shared their experience of how algorithmic moderation led to existing
financial loss, decreasing their normal revenue. While it was challenging to verify the exact
numbers provided by the YouTuber, this quote did reveal the negative impacts of algorithmic
moderation on profitability. This direct economic punishment could also indicate that
algorithms mediate the work of video creation and cause uncertainty to work as a video content
creator.
Video creation is time-consuming; YouTubers could spend 80 hours a week creating and
editing videos [2]. Plus, video content is oftentimes time-sensitive. Thus, even temporary
demonetization could incur a substantial financial loss even though they could reverse the
demonetization ultimately. Two YouTubers wrote:
My channel only gets 1 - 2 K views per video, and videos are all ad limited for the first
24 hours. So, by the time they manually approve my videos, I hardly get any more
views.
I have had my last 3-4 weeks’ worth of uploads flagged and monetization restored on
all of them after review. Unfortunately, that takes a few days, and I miss out on
monetization for those days.
Both YouTubers shared similar experiences of losing progressive ad revenue because of
waiting the time required to reverse algorithmic punishments manually. While their videos
were turned back to monetize through the human review process, the waiting time of manual
reviewing led to missing their deserved period for monetization. Thus, they failed to acquire the
turn on their investments of time, energy, and ideas in video creation. This temporality feature
of algorithmic moderation reflected the work precarity affecting video content creators’ online
life to real life.
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Furthermore, algorithmic demonetization would further impose consequential impacts on
YouTubers’ real life. The punishments could lead YouTubers to experience various degrees of
severity based on personal factors such as financial dependency on video creation or mental
conditions. For example, one YouTuber shared their experience of account suspension along
with the economic loss:
I started this channel five years ago when my parents lost their jobs, so I could afford
to go to college. It is hard to watch five years of hard work go down the drain and seek
ways to pay for college. Maybe it is just a coincidence people all got terminated under
similar circumstances. Regardless, I am upset that mine was wrongfully terminated in
the first place, and because of it, I am losing income every day that my channel is gone.
In this quote, the YouTuber financially depended on creating videos to earn daily revenue.
However, after experiencing account termination, they encountered an unstable living status to
afford the daily expenditure, worsening their socioeconomic conditions. This case showed how
YouTube demonetized a YouTuber at a channel level. Even though we cannot verify this
YouTuber’s account information, the causal logic contained in this example resonated well with
many other YouTubers’ stated experiences. Hence, YouTube moderation’s algorithmic penalties
and the corresponding socioeconomic impacts rendered YouTubers’ work precarity.
YouTubers also experienced mental stress because of demonetization in algorithmic
moderation. One YouTuber wrote:
At this point, Ive lost over $ 10,000 in revenue. Ive lost my motivation. Im depressed
and anxious as hell, and I'm sick and tired of waiting for this to get sorted. Ive been a
Youtuber since 2008 with various channels, and Ive never felt this frustrating about
YouTube just automatically demonetizing my videos.
By stating a precise amount of revenue deduction, this YouTuber encountered anxiety and
felt less motivated for future video creation, which implicitly indicated their negative emotions
toward YouTube moderation.
Punished YouTubers often seek support from the community. For example, YouTuber B and
C commented on a thread where the YouTuber experienced account suspension:
YouTuber B: I can understand your feelings. After all that hard work, losing something
so precious can be difficult. But do fight it out and try to get your channel back. We are
all the way with you.
YouTuber C: I can feel your pain; my channel also got terminated for no reason. It had
46k subscribers, I have tweeted them, and they said they had passed my request to the
policy team. I suggest you keep trying whatever you are doing to get your channel
back. Good luck.
Both YouTubers showed empathy for the punished YouTubers and encouraged them to
reverse the issued punishments consistently. YouTuber C provided personal experiences of how
to cope with moderation penalties. Also, they both expressed emotional support and
recommended the punished YouTuber to consistently reverse algorithmic penalties. This
instance reflected that both YouTubers had a high tolerance towards algorithmic moderation.
With feeling a lack of agency, they had hope for a better moderation system.
However, experiencing all these aspects of algorithmic precarity, YouTubers also showed
how they were empowered by such precarity to exert the autonomy of stabilizing their income.
They diversified their income not solely to rely on ad income. Specifically, we found that they
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collaborated with various funding platforms or marketing sponsors [105] to acquire direct
funding, alleviating future demonetization impacts. One YouTuber suggested:
Try to seek monetization directly from your audience (e.g., Patreon, Ko-fi, etc.)
Honestly, I cant recommend any creator pin all their revenue on AdSense, even if they
are not at risk of being removed from the YPP.
In this quote, YPP refers to the YouTuber Partner Program. The YouTuber mentioned
‘Patreon’ and ‘Ko-fi’; both are external crowdfunding platforms for content creators like
YouTubers to establish membership with audiences by posting exclusive content to acquire
direct monetary donations. Here, the discussions and behaviors about using external funding
platforms indicated that YouTubers actively coped with the future financial loss to both exert
their autonomy and alleviate their work uncertainty.
Some YouTubers described how they could reverse the demonetization penalty by contacting
Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs), as one YouTuber wrote:
MCNs can sometimes have contact with YouTube to assist with enabling monetization
on channels that might normally be refused.
Here, MCNs refer to organization partners who help establish brands for YouTubers and
marketing their videos [37]. Contacting outside entities reflected the YouTuber actively coped
with penalties and pointed out the generally limited communicative methods for YouTubers to
solve their economic problems with the YouTube platform.
Besides YouTubers showing how they coped with the demonetization and its socioeconomic
impacts, they also switched between or migrated to other streaming platforms to seek a lower
degree of future moderation risks, different from prior work uncovering that users stayed at the
same platform to do so [16]. For example, one YouTuber who experienced algorithmic
punishments wrote in the thread:
In any case, I am going to try Bitchute for now. It has support for people who are
streamers. For me, what is happening with YouTube right now is the final straw, and
I’m tired of that platform and want to go somewhere else.
This YouTuber mentioned their desire for completely transferring to an alternative video
streaming platform of YouTube, namely Bitchute, to seek lower moderation. They described the
moderation experience by claiming how YouTube rarely showed considerations for YouTubers.
However, here we need an analytical lens to see such platform shift actions. Since YouTube is
currently the largest video streaming platform, competitors hardly have more userbase and
daily engagement data than YouTube. Hence, YouTubers shifting between platforms would
encounter challenges for acquiring more future economic benefits due to the lower fanbase,
incomparable to what they can reach on YouTube.
5.3 Learning and Applying Algorithmic Know-How
YouTubers collectively made sense of algorithmic punishments, developing and disseminating
algorithmic know-how or practical knowledge of YouTube moderation. Specifically, YouTubers
shared and analyzed their punishment experiences to speculate about moderation algorithms,
which in turn informed operations of repairing their past moderation punishments and avoiding
future interactions with YouTube moderation. For example, two YouTubers discussed in their
dialogue:
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YouTuber D: The bot scanned my pre-stream has concluded that it is not suitable for
ads. I have no strikes on my account, and I have had no unsuccessful reviews. What is
it basing these scans on? How is it predicting the future, and so badly?
YouTuber E: Your tags, title, description, and thumbnail are all available pre-stream.
Maybe thats what the bot guessed from.
In the quotes, ‘pre-stream’ refers to the published live streaming on YouTube Live that is
neither scheduled nor held yet. YouTuber D expressed the confusion of how YouTube’s
algorithms made moderation decisions without reviewing the stream content. YouTube E stated
that metadata of videos helped the bot make algorithmic predictions/classifications. Also,
YouTuber E used the words ‘guess’ and ‘maybe’ to describe the bot’s classifying mechanism,
expressing uncertainty in their analysis of moderation. This dialogue resonated with Caplan’s
findings [13] that the video’s metadata might trigger YouTube moderation. It further showed
the process of collective sensemaking: how YouTubers collaborated to piece their past
experiences together and speculated about how moderation algorithms worked.
YouTubers applied the know-how about metadata moderation in their content creation.
Many YouTubers discussed how they could self-moderate their metadata to repair punishments.
One YouTuber wrote:
I've tweaked my video title and thumbnail over the course of a week, and I've had my
status automatically changed back to monetization.
The YouTuber mentioned that by editing metadata (e.g., tags, descriptions, thumbnails, user
comments, and titles), they changed their past videos to repair demonetization penalties.
Resonating with self-moderation on social media [85], this example indicated a practical level of
self-moderation behaviors on YouTube. Also, both examples regarding tweaking metadata
further pointed out the labor of dealing with moderation punishments.
Even holding such algorithmic knowledge, some YouTubers felt powerless to avoid future
moderation risks when massive audience comments trigger demonetization punishments. One
YouTuber mentioned:
The problem is that advertisers didnt like that those [hateful] comments were there.
The problem is not that YouTube doesnt deal with them; its that YouTube cannot
police every comment posted. What they need is a quality filter, just like Twitter.
Accounts with verified phone numbers, emails, maybe throw in a Facebook link to
secure it that little bit further.
In this example, the YouTuber envisioned a filter to manage the audiences comments on
their videos. Three layers of information were disclosed here. First, resonating with prior
studies regarding bad actors gaming algorithmic systems [23,47] and the third YouTube
Adpocalypses origins, YouTubers try to mitigate moderation risks brought by problematic
audience behaviors. Second, even though YouTube had provided keywords blocking functions
for YouTubers to filter problematic audience comments, the example here showed that it still
provided insufficient support to moderate potential commentators. Last, the YouTuber here
called for verified audiences under the assumption that non-qualified audiences can still watch
videos for their monetization. This example further showed that YouTubers having algorithmic
knowledge could provide reflective suggestions for moderation systemsdesign even though
they are in the hardship of avoiding future moderation risks.
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Furthermore, part of the algorithmic know-how was to strategically use the appeal process
when YouTubers deemed the algorithmic decisions inaccurate. For example, one YouTuber who
experienced account suspension shared their strategy:
Its been about two months since this took place, and I figured I should update you on
how things are going. So, I eventually got my channel back up, I contacted Trusted
Flagger on Twitter, and he helped me get the strikes taken off my account, and it was
back up and running by the following week.
This YouTuber provided an alternative way of the appeal process and remedying past
punishments: using an external social media platform to contact the YouTube staff. On the one
hand, this action overcame the limitation of an appeal process that YouTube allows YouTubers
to do only once. On the other, this information implicitly reflected a lack of a communicative
path for YouTubers to contact the YouTube platform for moderation issues directly on YouTube.
Knowing that appeal, even if effective, would take time. YouTubers thus adapted their work
schedules to cope with such time costs. One YouTuber wrote:
Most appeals are handled within a day. And that appeal can be handled before the
content goes live, so I Just offset my schedule by 2-3 days. If I upload daily, I upload my
Wednesday content on Monday, schedule, and appeal if it is hit.
In this quote, the YouTuber described their action of avoiding potential financial loss by
posting live streaming schedules earlier. Behind this process, YouTubers utilized the time that
an appeal usually took to have enough time to prepare for future moderation.
Reflexively, YouTubers pointed to how their feedback in the form of appeal could help
improve moderation algorithms. Below is a conversation between two YouTubers:
YouTuber F: Ive had one video in my last 30 uploads not be ad limited. The rest I have
had to send away for review. FYI all live streams where I get ad limited on in the past
have been successfully reviewed afterward.
YouTuber G: Thats good! You are helping train the bot by doing this. If the bot isnt
able to make a decision because there is too little for it to go off of, or it doesnt know
what to do with some of the data, it hits the video to be safe.
YouTuber F, in detail, described their demonetization experiences as well as the appeals
outcomes. YouTuber G explicitly explained the reason why the bot makes demonetization
decisions and highlighted the expectation that more appeals can help the algorithms be trained
better, which was encouraged by YouTuber G to repair past penalties. Besides, they further
developed the prior knowledge from the bot algorithmically classifying content based on
metadata to how the bot made final decisions for issuing penalties. This dialogue here showed
both YouTubersdesire for a moderation system with better perceived accuracy.
6 DISCUSSION
This study analyzed how YouTubers interact with the algorithmic moderation on YouTube, as
summarized in Table 1. We extended prior scholarship by uncovering moderation systems
socioeconomic penalties and effects and how YouTubers collectively perceived, learned from,
and coped with these algorithmic punishments. In this section, we will discuss YouTubers
algorithmic precarity and their labor of repairing and avoiding algorithmic moderation. We will
show how post-punishment peer and platform support could serve as a restorative justice
means. Ultimately, we call for trustful explanations of algorithmic moderation, compensating
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economic loss for falsely demonetized YouTubers, and algorithmic moderation systems with
more transparency.
Table 1. Socioeconomic Interactions with YouTubes Algorithmic Moderation
Categories
Themes
Opaque algorithmic
moderation failed to
support users
reasoning
YouTubers did not receive notifications for specific moderation punishments
Normal audiences with few activities got undeserved moderation punishments
without convincing or sufficient explanations.
The unfair moderation was perceived to impose on YouTubers disproportionally
compared with the larger YouTubers.
The moderation explanations also cannot provide enough credibility to YouTubers
(e.g., what video violated community guidelines in specific timestamps).
YouTubers personally experienced inconsistent or irregular moderation without
enough explanations.
The algorithmic
precarity as
YouTubers
Future ad income decreased or is deprived (i.e., demonetization) due to YouTube
moderation.
YouTubers exerted their autonomy to stabilize the income by associating with
multiple monetization/crowdfunding platforms.
YouTubers switched between different streaming platforms to avoid exclusively
leaning on YouTube.
YouTubers used different communication mediums to contact YouTube Team due
to such limited provision.
Learning and
applying algorithmic
knowledge to repair
and avoid
moderation
YouTubers collectively theorized, shared, and practiced knowledge that various
types of metadata trigger YouTube algorithmic moderation.
YouTubers collectively shared and practiced how they can and cannot handle past
moderation punishments and avoid future moderation.
YouTubers collectively theorized how YouTube algorithms make moderation
decisions.
6.1 The Labor of Dealing with Moderation Algorithms and Socioeconomic
Punishments
Previous scholarship has examined the labor of human moderators in managing and curating
content and enforcing norms [28,101]. Our findings centered on the other side of moderation
and shed light on the labor of video content creators, the moderated, in coping with their
punishments. We showed how moderation algorithms intersect with YouTubers’ content
creation work, engendering a necessary form of algorithmic labor to comply with moderation
algorithms on YouTube and make their videos “advertiser-friendly.”
Specifically, moderation algorithms have conditioned YouTubers’ content creation labor in
several ways. YouTube’s algorithmic moderation has resulted in more work from YouTubers. As
YouTube moderation develops complex policies and enforcement strategies [13], its opacity
grows. Subsequently, YouTubers must do more work to restore transparency to their
punishments. Prior work has discussed how social media users typically encountered
algorithmic moderations inexplicability (e.g., [33,47,52,74]). In the case of YouTube moderation,
the opacity has multiple layers. We showed that there was a lack of warning prior to YouTube
issuing algorithmic penalties. When punishments happened, their associated explanations
seemed to be machine-generated with generic and insufficient language. Previous research has
confirmed the importance of human moderators in providing moderation explanations [47,101].
In our study, YouTubers who were unsatisfied with automatic explanations had to do the work
of appeal. There was also a certain degree of inexplicability in executing algorithmic decisions
between small and large YouTubers. Lastly, the opacity also manifested in the lack of direct
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communicative methods to apply for human interventions on issued algorithmic punishments,
unlike other social media that allowed users to directly contact moderators [39,52]. Each layer of
opacity would require a sizable effort for YouTubers to wrestle with.
As cultural production moves onto platforms, communication scholars have observed how
algorithms exacerbate the instability of such work [29]. In particular, our study showed how the
opacity of moderation algorithms had intensified the precarity of YouTubers’ content creation
work. Besides striving to create popular content, they also have to be mindful of the
inconsistency of moderation algorithms, where punishments were oftentimes issued irregularly
on the same video content or disproportionally on different YouTubers due to their scale of the
fan base. Such inconsistency resonated with Vaccaro et al.’s investigations on Facebook, where
policies were found to be applied on users at uneven levels [95]. Also, our study extended
Gillespie’s work that unevenness not only appeared in distributed human moderation [39] but
also in automated moderation, as our case of YouTube’s demonetization penalties shown.
Thus, part of YouTubers’ work is to manage such algorithmic precarity. Previous scholarship
has reported how YouTubers have to consider financial alternatives to ad revenue from
YouTube [4,13]. More broadly, managing algorithmic precarity. Besides the financial strategy,
our findings pointed to several other dimensions of managing algorithmic precarity. First,
YouTubers have to both repair their past moderation punishments and avoid future moderation
risks. Extending prior work discussing how users circumvented moderation on the original
social media platforms [16,38], we found YouTubers become skilled at editing content such as
metadata of videos to exert self-moderation. They use different scheduling to work with the
delay of demonetization (future moderation) as well as consistently and strategically appeal to
reinstate monetization status (past moderation).
Second, YouTubers engage in social practices to manage algorithmic precarity. While post-
punishment transparency work denotes short-term effort to repair, YouTubers turn to online
communities like our study site for various forms of support. They have to engage in long-term
learning, especially when they believe that moderation algorithms are also learning and
evolving. They utilize online communities to constantly update their algorithmic know-how as
a preemptive strategy, as well as remain reflexive. Some even organized collective actions to
unionize and challenge the platform’s governance decisions [68]. In this regard, our study
provided a detailed account of how moderation algorithms are also intertwined with the already
fraught labor relation of content creation.
Furthermore, there is an affective dimension to precarity management. People could
experience anxiety, loss of agency, and negative emotions when dealing with complex
algorithmic systems [12,49]. YouTubers would experience intense negative emotions upon
demonetization punishments because these decisions are of high stakes and also because these
decisions bring high uncertainty and opacity.
Lastly, the work precarity resulting from demonetization punishments also has transferable
meanings. On the one hand, prior studies largely investigated how users who mainly generate
text content interact with moderation systems on social media such as Reddit [48,52], Instagram
[16,30], and Facebook [66,93]. We extended these studies by focusing on video content creators’
perspectives and stressed the increased precarity due to socioeconomic punishments:
demonetization, its impacts, and the labor of handling moderation punishments. On the other,
this study indirectly extended the concept of precariousness mainly discussed around sharing
economy and digital worksites (e.g., [60,64,76,79]). We can see that content creation involves
monetization and its connections with audiences (e.g., crowdfunding from subscribers on
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Twitch [51,71]). At the same time, we should note the precarity caused by socioeconomic
content moderation and how creators manage such precarity, just as the case of YouTubers
shown.
As such, YouTubers’ algorithmic labor involves striking a delicate balance between
enhancing visibility on the one hand and avoiding moderation algorithms on the other. Due to
this, the socioeconomic punishment on YouTube could be considered as qualitatively more
severe than free expression platforms such as Twitter and Reddit: punishment comes with not
just the deprivation of the privilege of expression but also the deprivation of revenue.
6.2 Post-Punishment Support as Restorative Justice
In HCI and CSCW, researchers have reflected upon the limits of retributive justice, the punitive
system that YouTube currently employs, and paid more attention to restorative justice [6,81].
Restorative justice denotes “the repair of justice through reaffirming a shared value-consensus
in a bilateral process” [99] and values processes of healing and reconciliation. A restorative
justice lens implies that we should also value offenders’ experiences and seek to repair harm
and reintegrate offenders back into the community [6]. Relatedly, post-punishment support
could serve as a restorative justice means. Specifically, our findings highlighted two existing
forms of support: peer support and platform support.
Prior studies discussed peer support on social media [58,61,102]. In the context of YouTube,
we found that YouTubers shared and analyzed their experiences or knowledge to speculate
about moderation algorithms. Previous research discussed that social media users hardly felt a
sense of agency in algorithmic moderation systems [32] and how they took actions to
strengthen their agency [66]. By extending these studies, we found YouTubers actively learned
from algorithmic penalties and developed knowledge of moderation algorithms collectively.
When platform policies are unclear and enforced unevenly [13], algorithmic know-how
becomes important situated knowledge in algorithmically mediated work.
Importantly, we uncovered that peer support is not only for circumventing future
moderation. Prior studies have investigated how punished users supported each other to bypass
future moderation on social media [16,38]. However, YouTubers, as content creators, were
found to both repair past moderation punishments and avoid future moderation risks.
Sometimes, even though being aware of practical knowledge of moderation algorithms, they
might fail to circumvent specific future punishments. Due to algorithmic precarity and its
affective ramifications, emotional support is another category of social support we observed in
the community. YouTubers jointly expressed emotional support for those who experienced
penalties in their precarious work of content creation and sharing.
Besides peer support, YouTubers also value support from the platform. YouTubers
highlighted the importance of direct communication with the platform. They turned to external
communication platforms seeking informational support and proactively bridged the
communication with YouTube. However, they are not content with the current level of platform
support. Previous research uncovered that users could hardly communicate with the platform
for moderation issues [46] and called for a more communicative process in moderation systems
[93]. YouTube was found to have similar problems. YouTubers in our study were unsatisfied
with their communication with the platform and voiced complaints about the lack of
transparency even within the appeal process.
Both peer support and platform support represent a meaningful departure from retributive
justice’s simplistic logic of using penalties to fix offenders. When offenders do not comprehend
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the penal rationales, punishments alone could hardly reform offenders. West proposed that
content moderation systems could be more educational [66]. We extend this by highlighting
how peer and platform support could also contribute to offenders’ behavioral improvement.
6.3 Design Considerations
Previous researchers have called for democratic accountability, transparency, and free
expression from the internet platforms [39,48,66]. Reflecting upon the opacity of YouTube’s
algorithmic moderation, we suggest that YouTube could offer convincing or sufficient
explanations at the user level. For example, suppose a YouTuber is demonetized by the
thumbnail of their videos. In that case, the algorithmic system should indicate the punishment
decision is from the thumbnail rather than similarly stating which policy is violated. Resonating
with prior evidence that users might rush to make conclusions based on personal experiences
[87], we stress the importance of providing educational explanations to match with various
YouTubers’ backgrounds by the algorithmic moderation system. Furthermore, given the
findings that YouTubers felt unsatisfied with the appeal procedure, we argue that YouTube
could provide sufficient social support to human moderatos to reach considered moderation
decisions [78,93], which could potentially improve the transparency of moderation.
Moreover, YouTube could learn more from YouTubers for the better accuracy of algorithmic
moderation. Our findings involving content policies, human moderators, and YouTubers
manifested YouTube’s algorithmic decision-making processes have remained confusing to
YouTubers. Hence, we called for YouTube’s algorithms to learn from YouTubers more
comprehensively, where YouTube’s algorithms/classifiers can include records of YouTubers’
historical content as a factor to predict penalty decisions for future videos as a reference. We
found many YouTubers with all past nonproblematic records of videos but suddenly
encountered algorithmic penalties, rendering an inconsistent moderation procedure. Even
though reversing those penalties ultimately, they took the economic loss that happened at that
time. Involving this historical factor could help the classifiers receive more training data from
YouTubers to reach more accurate and confident results. Supplementing this design, moderation
systems should also be aware of videos that already pass moderation since we found YouTubers
reported moderation systems repeatedly tagged them with ‘limited ads.’
We call for attention to potential falsely moderated YouTubers’ subjective experiences,
drawing from a legal discussion of how a successful justification of penalty should consider
policy offenders’ subjective experiences [55]. As we described in Section 5.2, YouTubers sensed
various degrees of severity from penalties given their financial dependency on video creation or
mental conditions. Hence, the YouTube platform could consider compensating YouTubers for
falsely executed YouTube moderation. For example, content policies could articulate that after a
successful human review (appeal) process, YouTubers could acquire the ad income calculated by
the time from issuing demonetization to successfully passing the appeal procedure. This change
can potentially allow YouTube’s algorithmic moderation to be more accountable for users and
show their enterprise responsibility.
To sum up, this study of YouTube moderation could also provide transferable design
implications for other social media. For platforms providing video monetization from
ads/advertising such as Facebook [31] and Twitter [94], moderation explanations could provide
more actionable suggestions such as editing/repairing specific timestamps of videos to comply
with community guidelines instead of largely leaning on the human review (appeal) to solve
false-negative algorithmic moderation decisions. This could make algorithmic decisions more
429:20 Renkai Ma & Yubo Kou
PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 5, No. CSCW2, Article 429, Publication date: October 2021.
explainable. Also, platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube benefit from business
interests of providing audience management functions such as ‘customize audience’ to gain
more income. However, issuing moderation punishments on content creators, platforms have
scarcely considered the possibility of audiences’ problematic behaviors, as Section 5.3 shown.
Thus, we also called for the potential functionality of audiences’ identity qualification to
improve true-positive portions of algorithmic moderation decisions by involving outliers in the
training process, referring to problematic viewer behaviors.
7 LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE WORK
Researchers in the CSCW community have previously used specific subreddits’ discussion data for
different research topics (e.g., [5,80]). We acknowledge using this type of data could be possible to
bring bias, where YouTubers might share biased or conflicting information. However, we can still
systematically distill meaningful experiential conclusions from the data and point out the urgent
importance of designing more transparent algorithmic moderation to mitigate such bias. Even an
ideal machine learning model cannot reach 100% test accuracy due to various reasons (e.g.,
overfitting) [24]. So, even though YouTubers’ content is classified as true-positive problematic,
when YouTube cannot provide convincing explanations, YouTubers cannot learn from their past
behaviors. Thus, the bias will last. Also, it is possible that people who find moderation
punishments to be fair don’t come to the subreddit to complain, but this doesn’t make the
subreddit data less valuable. Rather, it provides a window in which frustrations lie and from where
design could bring consistent punishment experiences not to be frustrating. So, given the big data
nature of YouTube videos
16
, we aim to understand YouTubers’ lived experience of algorithms in
content moderation. We treat this study as an exploratory study of YouTube moderation and
present balanced interpretations from the Reddit data.
This research only collected the data that explicitly discussed YouTube’s content moderation
based on relevant literature and media reports. Hence, those implicit expressions that do not
contain relevant keywords are hard to identify. Also, the dataset does not include information
about YouTuber categories (e.g., games, lifestyle, music). As such, in the analysis process, we
cannot unearth whether differences of experiences or post-punishment interactions with
moderation would exist between specific YouTuber types. Besides, we did not discuss human
moderation (i.e., initially manual flag or moderation) on YouTube due to YouTube’s high (>95%)
dependence on automatic moderation [42].
Surveys or interviews with YouTubers would reveal YouTubers’ in-depth understandings and
considerations of moderation on YouTube. There could be future studies focusing on how
YouTubers in specific categories experience moderation through methods such as interviews,
surveys, or analyzing YouTube video data. This would potentially in-depth depict how YouTubers
theorize the mechanism of YouTube’s moderation systems and how they perceive the systems
fairness and sufficiency of moderation explanations.
8 CONCLUSION
As online platforms like YouTube carry growing significance in people’s socioeconomic life,
moderation plays a profound role in dictating some’s livelihoods. What this study showed is how
the opacity of algorithmic moderation, existing at multiple layers, injects more precarity in
16
https://www.tubefilter.com/2019/05/07/number-hours-video-uploaded-to-youtube-per-minute/
YouTuber’s Socioeconomic Interactions with Algorithmic Content Moderation 429:21
PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 5, No. CSCW2, Article 429, Publication date: October 2021.
YouTubers’ labor. They are in need of peer and platform support that could come in a sufficient
and efficient way. The restorative perspective could help yield meaningful insights into how post-
punishment support could be envisioned and designed into existing moderation systems.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank the associate chairs and anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback and
suggestions. This work is partially supported by the NSF, under grant no. 2006854.
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... Then, YouTubers might further find a specific video is imposed with 'limited ads' (i.e., yellow dollar symbol), as shown in Figure 1 (right). Thus, their future ad income of such videos will decrease, namely rendering demonetization punishments [2,21,62]. YouTube largely utilizes algorithms to conduct video removal or account suspension [35] and moderation decisions that are less severe than these are also majorly adjudicated by moderation algorithms. For example, journalists and researchers reported that YouTube applies machine PACM on Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 6, No. CSCW2, Article 425, Publication date: November 2022. ...
... Suzor et al. [86] uncovered users felt largely unfair about their content removal or account suspension because they did not receive detailed explanations on what rules they violated. Researchers also found that YouTubers with small fanbase considered moderation punishments were unfairly imposed on them compared with large channels [21], and they requested explanations for moderation decision-making processes [62]. ...
... We followed a semi-structured interview protocol (see Appendix A) to conduct each interview with YouTubers. Based on prior work (e.g., [43,62,92]) that discussed users' moderation experiences, we designed a part of questions to understand how YouTubers experience and handle moderation. We further designed another part given the functional dimensions on YouTube [105,111] to investigate YouTubers' fairness perceptions. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
How social media platforms could fairly conduct content moderation is gaining attention from society at large. Researchers from HCI and CSCW have investigated whether certain factors could affect how users perceive moderation decisions as fair or unfair. However, little attention has been paid to unpacking or elaborating on the formation processes of users’ perceived (un)fairness from their moderation experiences, especially users who monetize their content. By interviewing 21 for-profit YouTubers (i.e., video content creators), we found three primary ways through which participants assess moderation fairness, including equality across their peers, consistency across moderation decisions and policies, and their voice in algorithmic visibility decision-making processes. Building upon the findings, we discuss how our participants’ fairness perceptions demonstrate a multi-dimensional notion of moderation fairness and how YouTube implements an algorithmic assemblage to moderate YouTubers. We derive translatable design considerations for a fairer moderation system on platforms affording creator monetization.
... Given platformization and monetization of creative labor [10, 19,27], video sharing platforms like YouTube and TikTok tend to practice creator moderation through an assemblage of various algorithms (e.g., monetization, content moderation, recommendation algorithms, and more) [23]. So, creators may correspondingly experience moderation such as demonetization [7,22] or shadowban [3,29]. However, as interests in the CSCW community grow in understanding creators' moderation experiences (e.g., [22,23]), relatively little attention has been paid to unpacking or elaborating on bureaucratic traits of creator moderation, so we ask: How do content creators navigate bureaucracy in creator moderation? ...
... So, creators may correspondingly experience moderation such as demonetization [7,22] or shadowban [3,29]. However, as interests in the CSCW community grow in understanding creators' moderation experiences (e.g., [22,23]), relatively little attention has been paid to unpacking or elaborating on bureaucratic traits of creator moderation, so we ask: How do content creators navigate bureaucracy in creator moderation? In this poster, we call the algorithms conducting creator moderation as moderation algorithms holistically when not specifying certain algorithms such as recommendation algorithms. ...
... Extending the prior work on experiences of content moderation (e.g., [14,22,24,30,33]), we showed how YouTubers experienced the bureaucracy of creator moderation. That is, bureaucracy is embedded in moderation procedures, sharing similar traits with both algorithmic bureaucracy and organizational bureaucracy of online community governance. ...
Poster
Full-text available
Recent HCI studies have recognized an analogy between bureaucracy and algorithmic systems; given platformization of content creators, video sharing platforms like YouTube and TikTok practice creator moderation, i.e., an assemblage of algorithms that manage not only creators’ content but also their income, visibility, identities, and more. However, it has not been fully understood as to how bureaucracy manifests in creator moderation. In this poster, we present an interview study with 28 YouTubers (i.e., video content creators) to analyze the bureaucracy of creator moderation from their moderation experiences. We found participants wrestled with bureaucracy as multiple obstructions in re-examining moderation decisions, coercion to appease different algorithms in creator moderation, and the platform’s indifference to participants’ labor. We discuss and contribute a conceptual understanding of how algorithmic and organizational bureaucracy intertwine in creator moderation, laying a solid ground for our future study.
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