YouTube Heroes bring crowd-sourced censorship, controversial solution to objectionable content


Across the landscape of the Internet, a handful of websites have grown to become synonymous with the medium to which they operate within. To “Google” something, for example, is a term that is now rooted in our collective lexicon. When one says he or she is going to “Wikipedia” a topic, everyone present knows exactly what that person means. YouTube is the same way. 4.95 billion videos are viewed every day on the website, while 300 hours are viewed per minute. With those numbers, Google has an incredibly daunting task of trying to retain some level of control when it comes to the content that is allowed on the website. The survival of the website is contingent on keeping advertisers happy. One can only imagine how difficult a task it must be to try to guarantee advertisers that the videos on the platform reflect the right kind of image to viewers. There have been a series of attempts in the past to try to censor the content that deserves to be removed from the site. It used to be that a viewer could flag a video for violating the website’s terms of service, and upon review of that claim the video would be removed and a strike would be placed on the channel. Once a channel was issued its third and final strike, it would be terminated from the website. Granted, if the uploader felt as though his or her video was unfairly flagged, that person had the power to dispute the claim, but for the duration of dispute process, monetization was shut off. A new program, “YouTube Heroes” is the latest in these efforts.

“YouTube Heroes” is the name of an initiative designed to shift the job of monitoring and policing the website’s content to the users themselves. YouTube urges users to “become a YouTube hero” by signing up for a tiered system that bestows rewards and perks upon its participants for the work that they do. People who sign up for the program can gain points for adding subtitles and captions to videos, reporting negative content and sharing knowledge with others. Once a “hero” gains enough points, they are given the power to mass-flag videos. Since its announcement, this new initiative has received an overwhelmingly negative backlash. The announcement video alone has 912,392 dislikes and only 28,747 likes. That’s pretty bad for a website that entirely uses a like/dislike system to rate content. Comments below the video are disabled, so there is no way of knowing articulately how viewers feel, at least right away. So why do the numbers show idea of such a system so universally disliked?

The most obvious and glaring problem is that it would suppress any opinion or ideology that differs from the one kept by the “hero” in question. The fact of the matter is that virtually every point of view is offensive to somebody. The parameters set for what constitutes “negative content” on the site are so vague and open-ended that anybody with a predisposed chip on his or her shoulder would be able to contribute to censoring content. There would be few restraints on this, and it even looks as if YouTube meant for this to happen.

So often it seems as though we live in an outrage culture. The term “politically correct” has become a huge buzzphrase over the last couple of years. It’s a phrase thrown around quite a lot, to the point that it has arguably lost its original meaning and intent. The tensions and hysteria surrounding probably the most contentious presidential debate in recent memory have brought the concept of political correctness even further into the forefront of our national dialogue.

Due to social media and the power it has given the public, people feel as though they can voice any level of distaste or outrage they feel, and thanks to technology their feelings reach a lot of people. Comedians are told they must apologize for a joke they made in a comedy club because someone left and posted it on FaceBook. A tweet sent out by a company has to be retracted because people feel as if it promotes some agenda other than their own. Because of this, the perception of millennials, even by millennials themselves, is that their generation is too sensitive and too coddled. Many view this “YouTube Heroes” idea as a reflection of that attitude. It remains to be seen whether the system actually works.