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An Open Letter To YouTube About Video Restriction, and the Abandonment of Content Creators

To the persons at YouTube, either hidden away behind closed doors down long hallways, or safely tucked behind countless machines with super-computational artificial brains, or just leisurely relaxing in posh overly stuffed desk chairs, staring blankly at the line graphs of profit and loss: 

Greetings. My name is David. 

I'm writing this letter in the hopes that it will reach the attention of someone capable, actionable, and responsible; and as one amidst a sea of creators in an ever-growing segregated majority of the YouTube content creator community. 

For as long as I have been a member of the YouTube family, I have only known of YouTube as a cold, emotionless, and distant entity. Tirelessly working behind the scenes of the countless throngs of videos we make on a daily basis, to what end we have all only speculated. 

From time to time, and on occasion, the great hidden masters have emerged and made changes, implemented poorly executed policy decisions, and dropped upon us new unexpected tools and site features. And then as swiftly as they came, scuttled back into the far distant reaches of cold sterile isolation. 

From the eyes of a member only with YouTube a meager three years, it seemed as though YouTube were an enigma, a ghostly apparition, or some great celebrity that handed out golden tickets and white-lists to a select few. A rank and status those of us on the lower levels of the totem could only look after and dream about. 

Some creators were favored, and some were overlooked, and from my particular seat way up here in the nosebleeds, it seemed that unless I was in the "in crowd" or one of those few that had millions of subscribers and whose content generated millions in revenue, I would need to know someone, that know someone, that knew a guy that could get in touch with a guy, that might get me to customer support. 

This has been the norm for my three years. I've endured. We all do. Because we all dream of making something of our content. We all want to be the next person to break that million subscriber mark, and get that gold play button... we all want our fifteen minutes... or rather, in our case... that one viral video or two.

Communication between YouTube and us content creators should be the most important aspect of this business relationship. It's usually essential in other businesses. Even when there are umbrella companies, partnerships, and sub groups... why was it deemed so unimportant to communicate with those of us you depended on to provide you with a means of generating a symbiotic revenue stream? I thought we were in this together? I thought we were a community? instead we were like a broken family that only showed up at Christmas and then raged endlessly over which of us would be stuck with the ugly neck-tie.

For three years I've endeavored to create content that passed all of YouTube's guidelines. I adhered strictly to the community guidelines. I made sure that my content was my own, and that it didn't violate any terms of service, or infringe on copyright. I used the tools that YouTube gave me, I made use of the royalty free music, and the suggestions, and the tips for growing my channel. I did everything you've asked. I kept my videos clean, little to no profanity, nothing sexual, nothing aggressive or violent, and nothing controversial. 

The most controversial topic I think I ever covered was my first year, when I commented on a boy that had his "My Little Pony" backpack banned from school because he was bullied for wearing it. 

In three years I've worked to constantly improve. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm sure I wasn't alone. I'm sure there were many of us that wanted to take advantage of the opportunities others had before us.

My channel is a review channel. I discuss Japanese anime, comics, and popular culture. I sit in front of my camera in my office and comment on the weekly episodes of a niche entertainment. Some of which may be intended for older audiences, sure... but the subject of the discussion isn't the issue. It's the content in the video. So by all reasoning, I could remark on the moon landing, or the Macy's day Parade with the same level of moderate language, and delivery and still be well within the boundaries of what should be deemed appropriate material. 

To bring this point home a little finer. I could discuss the civil war, give names, dates, battles, and talk at length about the scenarios of the conflicts, and not cross the line into perversion, racism, prejudice, or gender inequality. Why? Because I'm a commenter. I'm a reviewer. I discuss the value and merit of a work of art, and whether other similar like minded person with a similar interest would find this work of art of equal or lesser merit. 

So imagine my shock and horror when beginning in March, YouTube began a systematic destruction of my channel. 

I can't really call it anything less. 

I know I heard about some something to do with the great PewDiePie... I heard about something to do with the Wall Street Journal... and then suddenly the LGBTQ+ community of creators were in an uproar. 

Mind you, I was busy working 50 plus hours a week trying to get content to my channel, so that it can grow to maybe more than a few hundred subscribers. I may make niche content, but the competition in the YouTube anime community is stiff. And trying to convince a bunch of up-start fans of anime that a 30 something fat guy with thinning hair is worth a watch and a subscription is a chore.

This too shall pass. 

I told myself this as these rumblings started coming in. This too shall pass. One of those "Golden Ticket" holders that somehow miraculously has YouTube's ear will say something, hear something, and something will work itself out. 

And you know what it seemed to.

The end of March and the beginning of April was the best time for me as a content creator. I started getting more subscribers, I made a commentary video about that United passenger that was beaten and dragged off a plane, and I got more views, and subs, and I was on cloud nine. I thought that any day now I was going to hit that break that I felt was coming for months now. That one moment when people realized that I was here, and that I was someone they could watch... and that my at that time, near 500 videos were not made in vain.

And then it happened. 

The dreaded "Adpocalypse."

I was never informed of the change. I wasn't sent an email notifying me that something was in the wind. I learned about this from watching another YouTube content creator that stumbled on to it. I learned that videos were getting hidden from Safe Mode. 

What could this mean?

Then I learned that my own videos were hidden from safe mode. They were somehow being "Restricted." I didn't understand what it meant. How could my videos be restricted? I thought adult content was restricted? I thought restricted content wasn't eligible for monetization? Why were my videos showing that they were eligible? Did anyone have any answers?

This was April 22nd. 

For the next few weeks I struggled, and clawed and scraped and watched videos and listened to podcasts, all in an attempt to understand the exact nature of what was happening. What was so wrong with my videos that they were suddenly deemed so wrong? How could they be wrong and yet right? How was I even making revenue from them?

Every time I tried to reach out to YouTube on your Twitter, I got the same generic response. I got directed to a blog post. I got redirected to a help page that explained what the restriction feature was, but not why my videos were being hit.

At every turn, it seemed I was getting told that either they were still making me revenue, or they were not. And that most likely this was all my fault, that I should go back and make changes to my video so that they will be friendlier content. 

How was I supposed to do that when I didn't even know what it was that I did wrong in the first place? It's like I'm a child wondering what house rule I broke, and YouTube is the wicked step mother, saying, "Oh I think you know what you did wrong!"

No I honestly don't. Please tell me why I and so many others are getting treated like criminals for wanting to make content that follows the rules? Why does Wal-Mart or Volkswagen, or Pepsi get to dictate what's acceptable and not acceptable? Why do I feel like no one will listen to me? 

This is harsh, YouTube. Very, very harsh. I thought we were business partners? I thought we made the content, you provided the ads, and we shared in the profit? 

Even today, I fail to reach a real person at YouTube. Just more automated responses. By the hundreds of thousands we have concerns and we aren't being heard. Our livelihoods and futures are on the line here, and the best you can do is make a video patting yourself on the back for bending over to the money. 

So now, I'm here watching as I make two cents a day. I don't know which of my videos will have an ad at any given point. I don't know when more of my videos will suddenly disappear into the dark void of "Family Friendly Restriction." And I don't know how much longer I can be inspired to want to create with you. 

All I keep hearing from other creators is how I need to diversify... I need to Twitch, or Patreon, or set up a merch store. Well, I have a merch store. I've sold nothing. I have a Patreon... I have one supporter... it's easy for creators with millions of loving subscribers that are willing to donate and follow them to the gates of hell... but for an upstart like me... well... I'm just a poor sap that got suckered into believing that I could do anything... dream as big as I wanted, and work hard to make it happen. 

I never expected that my own pantry, or phone provider, or retail store would rise up against me in such a way. And what's most disappointing... 

I never imagined in a million years, that you, YouTube would give them the tools to destroy me. 

Funny how life works, isn't it?

Sincerely, David the Western Otaku. 

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