We live in an era where the promising aspects of social media aren’t being realized and unintended negative consequences abound. Hateful voices are being heard, and people who are naturally susceptible to them are either becoming radicalized themselves or becoming less trustful of societal institutions. What has happened with Youtube in particular is its algorithms can’t easily discern between genuinely alternative points of view and content that is deemed hateful or bullying. Advertisers such as AT&T have pulled their advertising dollars off Youtube because they’d rather advertise somewhere else that’s less risky than be seen as the lead-in display ad for a Youtuber with hateful views. It’s strange in a sense to think companies like AT&T would be concerned about being associated with these Youtubers, since I can understand that the company just had the misfortune to be placed in front of the video by an algorithm and that the company in no way is connected to the Youtuber. Although not everyone could easily make that distinction and I can understand that companies are right to be concerned.
What drew me to this article in particular is the thoughtful economic debate that played out in my head over the unintended consequences of Youtube’s purge as well as the unintended consequences of the pressure companies are placing on Youtube. Google owns the Youtube platform and can do as they wish with it. They can set the rules and include or exclude whoever they wish. It is in effect a gated community. Both Google and the advertising companies are doing what’s best for their interests and not necessarily society’s interest. What often happens when a platform excludes a certain population is that they don’t solve the underlying issue of people having hateful views, they merely cast away and displace the problem. The people who are excluded don’t reform themselves, often they develop their persecution complex further and their views worsen. The same happens to their audience. A different effect happens to the community who remains included in Youtube’s platform. They develop ‘ideological incest’ and forget there’s a sizable percentage of the population who holds alternative views (even if they’re rascist, sexist, or xenophobic).
Should Youtube stop their purge and allow these Youtubers to remain, and allow for dialogue and pushback from the community to show these Youtubers that their ideas are in dispute? Or does it ban these Youtubers and cast social condemnation on their views? Often Youtubers with hateful views have them only to cultivate an audience they can use to generate videos with high-view counts and get paid. Youtube could choose to allow these Youtubers to remain, but unmonetized and allow for community pushback. However, if Youtube chooses to do that, can their algorithms improve to recognize and prevent monetization? None of these questions have easy answers.
This debate reminds me of what happened five months ago to Neogaf.com. It was the pre-eminent and most popular message board on the internet, although its moderation was incredibly strict. Moderation happened without open debate, and members lived in fear of receiving a permanent ban, even members who had used the site for many years without incident. “Alt-right” users rarely survived there for long, and people with conservative views were heavily outnumbered and afraid to voice their opinions on cultural or political matters. Neogaf developed a heavily liberal and socialist mindset that made discussion routine and lacking variety. The site collapsed last October when the owner was named in the #MeToo movement. The site’s community reformed itself as Resetera.com and changed its moderation to be open, with warnings and bans being publicly displayed in the offending post. Bans were now made now made to last mere days, and offending material was dealt with more through argumentation and pushback as opposed to permanently banning users without debate. The Resetera.com community feels more open and self-policing than Neogaf, without being at the mercy of internet trolls or disingenuous self-promoters. Perhaps Youtube can find a more productive route such as the one Resetera has chosen.
The marketing implications deal with company’s corporate social responsibility, and as marketers to not easily make a decision that’s best for their business if it can have unintended consequences for society. A holistic view that takes into account all positive and negative externalities must be used.