Becoming a YouTuber is a relatively new and lucrative career path for content creators. Given the staggering amount of traffic that the streaming site receives each and every day, coupled with the ad revenue that this traffic can bring about, creating web-based video content has proven to be a gainful path for many. However, given the sudden rise of this type of content creation, many have found the ways in which YouTube regulates its content to be confusing and inconsistent. This lack of content regulation and protection for creators has lead to a group of European YouTubers making moves towards unionization.
The YouTubers Union was formed in 2018 and was, until recently, a community-based group of content creators who worked together to do what they could in advancing protections for online creators. Given their small size, however, their efforts have largely gone unnoticed by YouTube itself. Until recently, that is. Earlier this month, the group joined forces with Europe’s largest trade union — IG Metall, a prominent German union — in an effort to lobby for greater protections for content creators on YouTube.
The new joint initiative has been dubbed FairTube, and is working towards putting pressure on YouTube to be more transparent about its rules and regulations as well as the decisions it makes regarding the processes by which videos are monetized, and what leads to the demonetization of videos.
The union has been spearheaded by Jörg Sprave, a German content creator who makes videos about slingshots and their different varieties. Although Sprave has amassed more than 2 million subscribers, he found his videos being removed or demonetized last year when YouTube cracked down on weapons-related videos in what came to be known as “Adpocalypse”. Sprave confirmed, however, that his videos did not breach the site’s content policies. Still, his videos remained under scrutiny.
Many content creators have faced similar issues, and have had videos removed or demonetized without any explanation. This has lead many creators to question whether or not YouTube is being wholly transparent with its policies and guidelines. While prominent creators have access to a platform known as the “YouTube Partner Manager” in which questions can be answered by customer service representatives, many creators are left in the dark when it comes to any queries about their content. As bots are responsible for the majority of YouTube moderation, creators have consistently found their videos miscategorized with no opportunity to appeal any decision, or even talk to a real human being to resolve any issues with the way their content is presented on the platform.
Now FairTube, with the support of IG Metall, hopes to examine the legality of YouTube’s policies as they relate to the policies of the European Union. The main focus of the group’s announcement video questions whether or not content creators should be considered employees of the platform. The video also addresses Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation law, which was recently expanded and enforces greater transparency over the use of personal data. Sprave claims that due to recent amendments to the law, YouTube has been in violation of its policies.
The video includes a list of other demands, including the creation of an independent mediation board to address “disputed cases of demonetization and guideline violations.” FairTube has said they want this new mediation board to replace YouTube’s automated system that easily dismisses creator appeals, and has called for more human points of contact within the platform’s chain of command. The group has also insisted that creators should be made a part of the company’s decision-making process, through the creation of a formal advisory board.
Sprave says the main intent of FairTube’s demands is to help independent creators on a platform that he claims has become sainitzed by prioritizing big brands and celebrities at the expense of smaller creators.
FairTube representatives have given YouTube until August 23rd to respond to their demands. If they do not receive a response by this time, the group says they will examine their legal options against the site, which could include demanding improved working conditions through the European Union.
These demands were summed up by Sprave in a statement to Motherboard, which reads: “We aren’t demanding things that cut into profits or are unrealistic. We want fairness. We want transparency. We want to be treated like partners. And we want personal communication instead of anonymous communication.”
In just three days following the launch of their announcement video, Sprave says FairTube has gained 1,200 new members and has received “overwhelmingly positive” comments.
In response to the video posted by Fairtube, YouTube representatives shared the following statement with Vox: “We’re deeply invested in creators’ success, that’s why we share the majority of revenue with them. We also need to ensure that users feel safe and that advertisers feel confident that YouTube is safe for their brand. We take lots of feedback as we work to get this balance right, including by meeting with hundreds of creators every year. However, contrary to what is being claimed, YouTube creators are not YouTube employees by legal status.”
We will have to wait and see how YouTube formally responds to the group but in any case, as FairTube’s momentum grows, this could be the start of a change for the better for content creators worldwide.