First things first, this is not a political opinion piece. You can find those elsewhere. Instead, this article will be looking at the ramifications of the ascendance of Facebook, Twitter, and Google's YouTube on the future of the Internet, and more specifically online journalism.
We've hinted at some of the issues we'll be raising today in past op-ed pieces, but in the wake of YouTube's decision to terminate revenue sharing with what is likely to be millions of content creators, we decided it was time to revisit the subject. The move by YouTube, which took effect on February 20, 2018, requires that for a channel to receive ad revenue, it must have at least 1,000 subcribers and 4,000 hours of viewed content over the past 12 months. The Tech Buyer's Guru, which launched its channel in May 2017, has around 250 subscribers and 2,700 hours of viewed content, so we're out of the running, and will likely terminate our video production soon. Sure, we were only making about $20 a month, which to put it bluntly wasn't paying the bills, but it was the promise of something more that kept us going, and this is a business after all. We don't publish content just for the fun of it.
Ostensibly, YouTube (i.e., Google) made this decision to cut out bad actors, like neo-Nazi groups and Internet trolls, but the irony is that the subscriber and viewership thresholds simply cut out newer channels, or those with niche audiences. You can bet that the majority of bad actor channels have been around long enough to generate plenty of interest, so they'll keep making money off of YouTube while legitimate content creators suffer. And while YouTube finally demoted Logan Paul from most-favored advertiser status (he was reportedly pulling in $10 million annually for his brainless, antic-filled videos), it's all just a bunch of sound and fury. Google has taken these actions to placate advertisers, and to have some plausible response when testifying on Capitol Hill about what it's doing to combat anti-social activity on YouTube. But the real reason YouTube did this is that it has a limited number of advertisers, and an exponentially-expanding number of videos, meaning something had to give. YouTube simply didn't have enough ads to go around. All the talk about making YouTube a safer place is window dressing.
Sadly, we've spent enough time on YouTube over the past year to know that there are a huge number of very popular channels that will continue raking in the bucks that are either:
- making money off of copyrighted material (free legal tip: it's not enough to say someone else holds the copyright when you're making money off of it, and YouTube could shut down all these channels in an instant, but doesn't)
- attracting subscribers by mocking and belittling the content they cover, for example movies (CinemaSins) and tech (Linus Tech Tips)
- creating puerile or prurient content that appeals to every human's most basic instincts (from pranksters like Logan Paul to conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones to no-name channels posting photos of celebrities then and now, often scantily clad, to, get this, children's videos loaded with graphic violence and crude sexual references), or, most importantly,
- producing funny cat videos.
The truth is that Google, along with Facebook and Twitter, simply have no idea how to tame the beast they've created. In social media, we are all witness to (and participants in) a movement that has consumed the world wide web from which it sprung, and has attracted the ire of policy makers and pundits the world over. But we're not blaming Google, Facebook, and Twitter, because the people behind the curtains aren't all-knowing deities. They're humans like the rest of us, and they had no idea what was coming, nor do they have any idea how to fix the Internet they've broken.
Let's focus on Twitter for a moment. Luckily, it gave us some food for thought just today, February 21st. Twitter generated a hailstorm of criticism after suspending the accounts of suspected Russian bots, which happened to cut into the subscriber counts of a wide range of alt-right twitter personalities. Was it political? Does it matter? The bigger issue is that we all know by this point that Russian bots are having their way with social media, proving far more successful than they ever were posting nonsense on forums for the past two decades. Yes, we know all about Russian bots, as we've spent about 20 minutes every day for the past four years deleting bot accounts from TBG's Forum. And you thought a forum could run itself! In Twitter, bots have a vehicle for multiplying their impact well beyond what they could ever do spamming forums, thanks to the actual humans that you may have heard of who retweet these fake tweets.
And how about Facebook, home to billions of former world wide web users? If you need proof that it could portend the downfall of legitimate journalism, just ask Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News. His demand in January 2018 that Facebook start paying up for all the content it profits from but doesn't create (i.e., steals) makes it clear that even media titans that are known for playing rough have had enough of this game.
The issue with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is that no one is actually running them, i.e. they have no moderator, unlike the thousands of forums and millions of websites that made the Internet what it is, or at least what it was until recently. In our opinion, the World Wide Web, you know, the place where you type in www dot something or other and read about a topic you're interested in, from cooking to caregiving to carpentry, is collapsing, and along with it online journalism. In profitting from user-generated content (which is often ripped from journalist-created content), Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have opened a Pandora's Box; they have before them a virtually limitless source of revenue-generating material, one which they can't possibly control.
You may ask why The Tech Buyer's Guru, a tech review site, is covering this topic. Well, ultimately, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are the incarnation of tech on the Internet, so in that sense it's fair game. But we also want to let our readers (and YouTube followers) know that it's becoming more and more challenging to produce quality content. Early on, we made the decision not to rely on banner ads to support this site, in part because we don't like ads any more than you do. Yes, we have a few on each page, but no, they wouldn't keep us going, not even close. The upside for you is that you've never been subjected to drivel like "7 Time Lottery Winner Says 'You're All Playing the Lottery Wrong!'" and "Embarrassing Perfectly Timed Photos You Must See", which we pulled from Anandtech today. Anand must be livid about what has happened to his namesake now that Purch has applied its magic touch to it. But of course, you'll see the same junk ads on many respected sites, including the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post and most of the web properties owned by publishing giant Condé Nast, such as ArsTechnica (a site we otherwise love), Vanity Fair, and GQ. This is how far the mighty have fallen thanks to social media getting all the ad dollars from legitimate advertisers.
If you want to help support TBG, there are a few things you can do. First, feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel, because as of right now, we're 750 subscribers short of making another penny, and second, use the Amazon affiliate links in our buyer's guides when you're shopping for new tech. We promise you'll never be asked to pay The Tech Buyer's Guru a subscription fee just to save yourselves from the horror of seeing another OutBrain, Taboola, or RevContent ad!