YouTube is demonetizing videos about coronavirus, and creators are mad

Everyone wants to talk about the novel coronavirus outbreak right now, but you might hear YouTubers avoiding the subject — if they talk about it, they risk getting their ads shut off.

“For today’s video, I won’t be directly commenting on the recent health related news because A, I am not a health care professional, and B, I don’t need my video demonetized,” Linus Sebastian, host of Linus Tech Tips, says at the beginning of recent video about buying a new PC in this period.

YouTube has demonetized videos about sensitive subjects in the past. The company’s advertising guidelines state that sensitive topics — usually a recent event with a “loss of life, typically as a result of a pre-planned malicious attack” — are normally not suitable for advertising. These videos are allowed to stay on the platform; they just can’t make money from YouTube’s built-in ad service.

YouTube said that the coronavirus outbreak is now being considered a sensitive topic. “As such, all videos focused on this topic will be demonetized until further notice,” Tom Leung, product officer at YouTube, said in a recent video. The policy exists to protect advertisers.

The new coronavirus meets the typical criteria. More than 95,000 COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) cases have been reported worldwide, and more than 3,200 people have died. Fears over the virus spreading have led to organizers for massive tech conferences, including Google I/O, Facebook’s F8, and the annual Game Developers Conference, to cancel or postpone the events. Disney’s theme parks have shut down across Asia, and more offices are telling employees to stay home.

Sebastian isn’t the only creator concerned about their video being demonetized. Jonathan Downey, who runs the popular gaming channel Spawn Wave, made a recent video about the Game Developers Conference shutting down. He tried to avoid using the word “coronavirus” in an attempt to keep his video monetized, but it didn’t work. Another YouTube creator who runs the Nintendo Prime channel said the “two or three” videos that referenced the virus were hit, adding that “one time I just said that thing that started in China,” and got dinged.

“I made up abbreviations to say like CV, but it still gets tagged as unsuitable,” Downey tweeted. “It was in a video about GDC being cancelled, so maybe events affected by coronavirus being talked about can trigger their bot for review as well.”

But not everyone gets demonetized. News channels often run videos about sensitive topics with ads that play because they provide the ads themselves. This is an issue that has come up time and time again; in 2017, Casey Neistat and Philip DeFranco pointed fingers at YouTube for giving news channels preferential treatment. Both creators made videos about a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left more than 50 dead and left monetization on with the intention of donating the proceeds to different charities. YouTube demonetized the videos but continued to allow ads on videos about the subject from channels like Jimmy Kimmel Live.

The incident led the YouTube community to see it as the difference between how premium-tier or “white listed” channels — those that bring in their own advertising deals — and videos from regular creators are treated. The company told The Verge that there are strict policies that govern what kinds of videos are allowed to have ads on, and it said policies are applied without bias. The company also told The Verge that if a creator’s channel is dedicated to covering sensitive subjects, they should still be able to monetize while making videos about stories like the novel coronavirus.

YouTube is looking out for its advertisers. The company made $15 billion in advertising revenue alone in 2019, and working with advertisers on where those commercials get placed is key. But creators want to be able to chime in on topics like the coronavirus outbreak, especially as it pertains to other interests (like gaming or theme parks), without having to worry about losing advertising revenue. It’s a fine line that YouTube is constantly walking and a question that will reappear as the virus continues to spread.

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