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The Methods and Layers of Censorship on YouTube

Updated on January 14, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


YouTube’s censorship per Google’s evolving and tightening standards takes multiple forms. Every hurdle to view a video hurts the viewership and content creator in several ways, and multiple hurdles in the way of viewing a video becomes de facto censorship. Let’s review the ways Google gets in the way of content it doesn’t like and how this impacts content creators and would-be viewers.

YouTube has mastered the concepts in "Nudge", designing a system that pushes you away from what it doesn't like until it is almost impossible not to obey their dictates.
YouTube has mastered the concepts in "Nudge", designing a system that pushes you away from what it doesn't like until it is almost impossible not to obey their dictates. | Source

Requiring Login to View Videos

When content is considered not generally acceptable, such as restricted to those over 18 with a Google account as many of Dennis Prager’s videos were, it limits potential views. These videos are not available in a general search, preventing casual perusal finding them. Children on a personal computer cannot see it, and many on public computers would be reluctant to log in to Google to view the video. Any action that discourages a percentage of potential viewers hurts metrics and payment to the content creator.


Interstitials are the pop-up warning messages that dissuade a number of people from viewing it. These warnings range from “This is controversial – are you sure?” to “This content is disturbing, warning”. Every such warning scares away a percentage of viewers, and Google is putting up these warnings on purpose for conservative and libertarian content. When you see similar warnings on videos for someone physically being assaulted as a pro-Israel video by an academic, you know the censors consider them both equally unacceptable. By putting both types of content behind an interstitial, they knowingly bias viewers against the content as well.


YouTube’s argument with demonetization is that removing ads from content they say advertisers don’t like isn’t censorship. Whether or not real advertisers are pushing the demonetization or Google is using that as an excuse is a topic for another day. The reality is that removing advertising from videos hurts content creators. You can still create the video and share it, but you can’t be paid for that work.

One potential work-around is relying on donation systems like Patreon for income instead of YouTube, but setting that up and building it up are unpaid work in the hope of receiving alternate income. Working to tie the demonetized video to other monetized videos through links and playlists is additional work. Seeking sponsors and trying to plug their products or your own published works in a video is additional effort, and not everyone achieves this.

By requiring creators making content YouTube is stifling to find alternate income, they force many to either drop off the platform or conform to its ever narrower demands of acceptability in order to earn a living. The few who can afford to create videos for free regardless of Big Tech’s censorship are either a tiny minority or putting out poor quality videos for the love of it that hurt the image of their particular cause due to its amateur quality.

Social Media Sharing Buttons Denied

YouTube has excellent social media integration compared to the alternatives. When YouTube denies the placement of its social media sharing buttons on a video, it is limiting the ability of content creators to get the word out. Yes, they can post the title and link to their videos on their own social media accounts and paste it elsewhere to get the ball rolling. However, every second and button click required to complete a task costs around 10% of your otherwise expected rate of shares.

By denying social media sharing capabilities, YouTube severely limits the ability of audience members to share the content with their friends. They can copy the title and link, open up social media and post it. However, the extra steps result in a far smaller number of shares by design.

Commenting Turned Off

Why would turning off the commenting on a YouTube video hurt the content creator? Because the comments section is where much of the social interaction on YouTube takes place. Someone spending five minutes arguing in the comments is on the page with their ads for five minutes, increasing the odds they’ll click on one.

If a content creator is engaged with the audience in the comments, it builds a sense of community without the cost of setting up a separate forum for your followers or trying to build up a Facebook page for your fan base.

In short, turning off comments shortens the time people are on your page, indirectly hurting both advertising revenue for the creator and the engagement of the followers that builds that person’s brand recognition.

Search Results

YouTube uses Google’s search engine, and Google’s liberal biases are already demonstrated there. For example, Google artificially pushes down in the rankings the types of content it doesn’t like whether diet drugs, pay day loans, pro-Second Amendment content or libertarian arguments against affirmative action. It is well known that people are most likely to pick the first link presented and are almost always going to pick a search result in the first five options. If finding you requires scrolling down the screen, they are invisible to the majority of your audience. If they have to go to the second page, less than a fifth of your potential audience will ever see it.

This makes Google promoting videos it prefers like those by MTV a major hurdle for content creators because now you have to be one of the top three search results to show up in the top five that Google shows searchers on YouTube. Yes, Google is putting its thumb on the scales in favor of viewpoints it prefers and sees this as acceptable and good because its defines good as anything in line with far left politics.

Re-Education Videos

Imagine going to watch a movie, but before you can watch the movie, the theater makes you watch a thirty minute documentary on why everything in the movie is bad or wrong. YouTube announced it wants to put in place of interstitials that merely warn away people from “controversial” content, it would start putting up so-called educational videos that share Google’s liberal views. If you have to watch a 5 minute rebuttal video before you can watch the content you selected, a very small percentage of the audience will ever reach the video Google is trying to censor. And that is the point.

As of this writing, YouTube has only announced its intention to put up re-education videos.

Other Issues

None of these technical and systemic censorship methods by YouTube mentioned above include the deliberate efforts of others to get content taken down or silence creators. Falsely flagging content as a violation of intellectual property rights or “brigading” organized to have many people flag content as hateful and get it taken down are two widely practiced techniques. Nor has this article addressed YouTube’s censorship per various country’s demands, like YouTube choosing to censor pro-democracy advocate Wael Abbas’ videos for Egyptian viewers.

Technological hurdles to viewing content are systemic and separate from organized groups punishing creators for holding opinions they don't like.
Technological hurdles to viewing content are systemic and separate from organized groups punishing creators for holding opinions they don't like. | Source

Why Is the Private Censorship By a Platform a Problem?

The issue is that YouTube proclaims itself an advocate for free speech while systematically oppressing opinions not in alignment with far left liberal politics. If YouTube was honest and said it favored liberal and politically correct content, it would not upset so many. If it had maintained the same standards throughout and clearly spelled them out instead of having vague terms of service that let it censor anyone at any time, those who didn’t fit Google’s liberal biases would know to seek alternatives to YouTube. With the shifting standards as to what YouTube tolerates, there would be less outrage if they gave a full accounting of the “charges” instead of taking things down and leaving content creators in the dark as to why it was censored. If YouTube and Google honored due process, giving you a clear path of appeals and information on who flagged your content so you could determine their biases such as when there is a down-voting campaign against a creator by liberal bullies, there would be less consternation.

It is the combination of hypocrisy, capricious enforcement, lack of due process, ever-changing standards and lack of information that is driving many to find alternatives to YouTube and wonder if Big Tech needs to be regulated as the FCC does TV stations to ensure freedom of speech or the companies need to be broken up under anti-trust regulation so that more alternatives for consumers exist.

© 2017 Tamara Wilhite


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