Bulletins

Problematic YouTubers are heading off-platform to make money

A group of researchers at Cornell Tech recommended that YouTube work with other platforms like Patreon to demonetize bad actors.

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A group of researchers want YouTube to help to demonetize problematic channels.

Image: Alexander Shatov/Unsplash

Just because a YouTube channel has been demonetized for posting problematic videos doesn't mean the channel owner stops making money.


Cornell Tech researchers, in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, reviewed more than 130,000 YouTube channels, and, in a study published today, recommended that the platform work with other services to identify and demonetize bad actors. Those bad actors can easily direct payments elsewhere, and while YouTube can't ban users from making money on other platforms, the company can partner with other platforms.

On one of the accounts flagged by researchers, a channel called Turd Flinging Monkey (bear with me here), the first dozen videos have been flagged as inappropriate. By YouTube standards, that account could be demonetized for posting problematic content. But it doesn’t matter what YouTube does, because that creator is making money elsewhere.

The account includes links to its BitChute profile, Patreon account, Discord username and a number of other platforms, some of which allow the creator to get paid. On Patreon alone, the account is making anywhere from $900 to $4,000 per month. So even if YouTube demonetizes the problematic videos, the creator is still able to share that content and earn a living from other services.

“In general, alternative monetization is a good thing,” Cornell Tech researcher Yiqing Hua told Protocol. “But if YouTube really wants this demonetization policy to work, it should collaborate with the other alternative monetization service providers.”

Over the years, more creators have begun directing users to platforms outside of YouTube. The Cornell Tech study found that about 61% of channels use at least one form of alternative monetization, compared to just 20% in 2018 and 2.7% in 2008. The more popular the channel, the more often creators tend to provide subscribers with a link to alternative payment methods.

But researchers found that the use of external payment methods is more prevalent among problematic content creators who risk being unable to make ad revenue off YouTube. For example, alt-right and men's rights activist channels advertised monetization links more frequently and tended to use a wide range of platforms to monetize.

Hua said these creators would explicitly tell their audience they can’t make money on YouTube, sometimes because of censorship. “And then they would say to their audience, “If you want to see more of this content, you should support me through these things,’” she said.

Many asked for donations through crypto and payment services like Patreon and PayPal. That simple request works: On Patreon alone, at least a dozen problematic channels made more than $100,000, according to the study.

Hua said that instead of restricting the ability to make money off YouTube, the platform could create a database of users who have been demonetized and share it with Patreon and others. That way, platforms can help each other identify bad actors and use their own respective policies to respond.

“Other platforms have different policies, and they have their own process to make these decisions,” Hua said. “But reporting these [users] is going to be very useful because they can notice the problem and focus on the problem.”

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Bulletins