YouTube Villains: Power in the Wrong Hands
by Jake Krajewski | published Oct. 19th, 2016
The YouTube Heroes program is, in theory, a good idea. Giving community members perks for doing good deeds such as captioning videos and posting advice in the community forums is a good way to encourage people to go the extra mile in assisting others. However, giving absolute authority to people is an awful plan.
On September 20, 2016, YouTube released a video announcing a new rewards plan for the community dubbed "YouTube Heroes." The video explained that the program would award points to anyone who helped the community by assisting other users, flagging negative content and captioning videos. The system works on a level system, with level one being the starting point, level two granting one access to special "exclusive workshops" and level three granting access to so-called "super tools" – which include the ability to mass-flag videos.
The community retaliated immediately. Videos popped up left and right speaking out against the system. The video, as of the time of writing this article, stands at over 892,252 dislikes. The feedback was so acidic that comments were disabled on the video.
While the program is likely a well-meaning attempt to help encourage a more positive community for the site, it has extreme Orwellian implications. The ability to mass-flag videos enables a person to shut down entire channels by flagging all of their content. It allows people to censor any opinion that they disagree with. It gives users the ability to destroy any content they find distasteful or offensive by their own personal definitions. That is a lot of authority.
YouTube claims that it will monitor any flags issued by their Heroes, but it does not state to what extent. If they plan on moderating the flags that pour in, they may as well just moderate their content themselves and cut out the middle-man. Or, better yet, they could hire actual moderators to do that work professionally instead of trusting a community that's been known to be less than friendly, at the worst of times.
YouTube is offering the ability to censor at will for the price of a few subtitles.
The mere idea that this kind of power would be entrusted upon someone, after earning a mere 100 points on a reward system with little to no monitoring, is terrifying. YouTube is offering the ability to censor at will for the price of a few subtitles. Now, while the ability to mass-flag has existed for a few years now, it has only ever been accessible to "trusted flaggers" who demonstrate a clear understanding of what can and cannot be flagged, as well as maintain a flagging accuracy of at least 90 percent. However, the vague terms of the Heroes program implies that anyone who reaches the points threshold will be granted access to mass-flagging privileges, regardless of flagging history. This is unacceptable; All users should be subject to the same stringent guidelines before being granted such power over the site's content. And while a single flag will not immediately take down a video and will normally be monitored first, mass-flagging videos is potentially capable of triggering an automatic response that could take down videos and cripple channels.
While YouTube has been running itself at a loss for years, constantly losing money to Google, this attempt at cleaning up its community and generating incentive for free labor (such as content moderation and captioning) is overall insulting to the community as a whole. The Heroes program has good intentions, but its execution is poor. A critical review of the system is a good idea. If YouTube edits the program to give more reasonable rewards to Heroes (like, perhaps, free credits for their pay-to-view YouTube Red content), it could generate the desired effects at little to no cost to them. However, following through with this plan will only result in abuse of the system, more backlash from the community and content creators afraid to produce anything for fear of being flagged and deleted.