Danny Philippou is crazy.
He is practically standing on his chair while his twin brother and also the creator of YouTube, Michael, looks at him with amusement. Logan Paul, perhaps the most famous YouTube character, laughs on the other side of the desk saying that everyone is sitting around an episode of his popular podcast Impaulsive . Anyone who has seen Philippous's channel, RackaRacka, will not be surprised by Danny's antics. This is how you feel when you are excited or angry. This time, he is both.
"It's not fair what they're doing to us," shouts Danny. "It's just not fair."
Danny, like many other creators, is proclaiming the death of YouTube or, at least, the YouTube with which they grew up. That YouTube seemed to welcome the wonderfully weird, innovative and serious, instead of rejecting them in favor of the evening movie clips and music videos.
The Philippou twins loiter between double doubles and actors, with a penchant for the macabre. But YouTube, the platform where they built their audience base, seems to no longer want them. A search of the popular video in which the brothers used CGI to recreate Mortal Kombat the most frightening "deaths", resulted in YouTube coming out in mirrored versions, reuploads and reaction videos. But the original was nowhere. YouTube hid it for violating the company's guidelines on excessive violence in a video, and the RackaRacka twins think it's nonsense.
"YouTube says it's a flaw in the system, but what the hell is wrong? They tell us that our videos are not hidden, but then why does not one of our videos come to light?" Danny says.
The story of Philippous is part of a long-standing conflict between how creators see YouTube and how YouTube positions itself with advertisers and the press. YouTube trusts creators to differentiate themselves from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, tells creators that they want to promote their original content and organizes conferences dedicated to improving the creator community. Those same creators often feel abandoned and confused about why their videos are buried in the search results, do not appear on the trends page or are silently demonetized.
. At the same time, YouTube's launch platforms for advertisers seem to show more and more videos of names of familiar celebrities, not of creative fans. And the creators who have found the most success playing with the algorithms of the platform have shown profound errors of judgment, becoming cultural villains instead of YouTube's most prized assets.
As YouTube struggles with misinformation, it discovers new ways in which people abuse it. In this system, the company is moving towards more commercial and user-friendly content for the advertiser at a speed that its community of creators has not seen before.
The golden age of YouTube: the YouTube of a million different creators, they all earn enough money to support themselves. The creation of videos on how to do what they like: it's over.
YouTube was based on the promise of creating a user-generated video platform, but it was another thing that helped the site explode in popularity: piracy.
When Google bought YouTube in 2006 for $ 1.6 billion, the platform had to clean up its massive piracy problems. It was all too easy to see anything and all on YouTube, and film studios, television conglomerates and record labels were boiling. Under Google, YouTube had to change. So YouTube executives focused on raising the content their founders designed for the platform: original videos.
The focus on creative culture defined the YouTube culture from its earliest days. The platform was a stage for creators who did not conform to the restrictions of Hollywood. It allowed people like Jenna Marbles; Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg; Anthony Padilla, Ian Hecox and his Smosh channel; and Lilly Singh to prosper. Each of them was driven to create a form of entertainment that was not happening anywhere else, and their work was incredibly unique: the marbles got angry at the stereotypes of the women, Kjellberg became notable for his live transmissions for games , Smosh made varietal sketches and Singh made impressions of his Canadian Indian family.
Between 2008 and 2011, the volume of videos uploaded to YouTube jumped from 10 hours every minute. At 72 hours per minute. By 2011, YouTube had generated more than 1 billion visits; people watched more than 3 billion hours of video every month, and creators earned real money through Google AdSense, a batch of money. Jenna Marbles was making more than six figures at the end of 2011. (In 2018, a select group of creators working on YouTube's premier advertising platform would earn more than $ 1 million at month .)
For 2012, creators such as Kjellberg left school or their jobs to focus on YouTube full time. He told a Swedish news outlet that he was receiving more than 2 million visits per month, with more than 300,000 subscribers. It was a completely new level of attention for him. "I almost feel unworthy," Kjellberg said at the time. "It's too much, I was happy even having this as my job, but now, when there are so many people who see and appreciate it, it's really fun." He, perhaps more than anyone else on the platform, demonstrated how YouTube could be successful.
Between 2011 and 2015, YouTube was a haven for comedians, filmmakers, writers and artists who were able to do the work they wanted and earn money in the process. It gave birth to a completely new culture that went into the mainstream: the series Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae would lead to the insecure of HBO . Creators such as the team of Rooster Teeth and Tyler Oakley went on tour to meet the fans after generating massive followers online. YouTube had achieved overall success, but in many ways, it still felt open. Anyone could upload almost anything they wanted without much information from YouTube itself.
Behind the scenes, things were changing. YouTube had begun to play with its algorithm to increase engagement and experiment with ways to bring more eye-catching content to the platform to keep up with growing threats like Netflix.
In October 2012, YouTube announced that its algorithm had changed to prefer videos with longer viewing times over the top view count. "This should benefit your channel if your videos take more time to watch on YouTube," the company wrote in a blog post to the creators.
This meant viral videos like "David After Dentist" and "Charlie Bit My Finger", which defined YouTube, in its early days, would not be recommended as much as the longer videos that kept people attached to the site. In response, the YouTube community began creating videos of more than 10 minutes to try to appease the system.
"I've discovered ways to monetize and harness the power of the algorithm," said comedian Cody Ko Digiday last year. "Obviously, he prefers longer videos, releasing several intermediate rolls, which many people do now."
Then there was original content.In 2011, YouTube invested $ 100 million in more than 50 premium channels. "of celebrities and news organizations, betting that adding Hollywood talent and authoritative news sources to the platform would raise advertising revenue and expand YouTube to an even wider audience." He failed less than two years later, with what appeared to be a clear lesson: YouTube's native talent was much more popular than any other big name from abroad.
YouTube took that lesson and turned it into YouTube Red. In October 2015, YouTube launched a plan Subscription fee of $ 9.99 per month that included ad-free viewing and new original series. Unlike YouTube's latest premium initiative, YouTube Red takes advantage of the platform's own talent, including Singh and Kjellberg, and links them with professional filmmakers to attract their subscribers. Bringing celebrity family names to YouTube while keeping the faces of the creative community at the front and center seemed like the best way to move into a space dominated by Netflix while staying true to the YouTube audience.
For a while, the creator community, which was thriving, thanks to sponsorship agreements and the Google ad platform, was satisfied. Joke channels like Fouseytube jumped in popularity; the game became a massive ecosystem; beauty how-tos took off; vlogging was the mainstream; The unboxing videos became a rage; the toy channels exploded out of nowhere; The family videos found a burning niche; And although graphic sketching videos like those of the RackaRacka twins may not have been what Google showed to advertisers, it was easy to find on the platform. 2015 was a year in which YouTube was at its most vibrant moment.
Then, suddenly, the creators began to encounter problems on the platform. In 2016, personalities like Philip DeFranco, comedians like Jesse Ridgway and dozens of other popular creators began to notice that their videos were being demonetized, a term popularized by the community to indicate when something had triggered the YouTube system to remove ads from a video , depriving Los of income. No one was quite sure why, and it generated complaints about larger algorithm changes that seemed to be happening.
Kjellberg posted a video detailing how the changes had reduced his audience numbers. He had been getting 30 percent of his source traffic suggested by YouTube, but after the apparent algorithm update, the number dropped to less than 1 percent. Kjellberg jokingly threatened to eliminate his channel as a result, which was enough for YouTube to issue a statement denying that anything had changed. (The denial specifically dodged the algorithm's questions, and instead talked about the number of subscribers).
These perceived and secret changes instilled the creators with a distrust of the platform. It also led to questions about their own self-esteem and if the energy they spent in creating and editing videos, sometimes up to 80 hours a week, was worth it. Anthony Padilla, co-founder of Smosh and one of the first great creators of YouTube, said in a recent video that the changes began to affect his mental health.
Initially, Padilla said he saw a clear line between the amount of work he put into a video and the number of views he brought. "So I associated that more views meant that my effort paid off," he said. algorithms seemed to change and visitor counts were "everywhere" in ways he could not understand. "I could dedicate hundreds of hours of work to something, and the views could be much lower than I expected," Padilla said. "I would begin to equate that with my sense of self-esteem."
Padilla was not the only person who felt that way.In late 2016, when the algorithm changes were causing headaches to some of the biggest creators in The platform, people began to announce that they had to take a break from the site they called their home, YouTube was not what it was between 2011 and 2016. They no longer understood it, and try to keep up with a machine that I did not recognize And what they could not trust was causing people to run out faster than ever. Including creators like Kjellberg.
YouTube exercised more control over what users saw and videos that would earn money. Once again, the community would adapt. But the way it was adapted was much more problematic than anyone had imagined.
In early 2017, YouTube was already fighting some of its biggest problems in more than a decade. The founders of YouTube were not prepared for the avalanche of disturbing and dangerous content that comes from people who can share videos anonymously without consequences. Add a moderation team that could not keep up with the 450 hours of video that went up every minute, and it was a house of cards waiting to fall.
YouTube had been attacked in Europe and the United States for allowing extremists to post videos of terrorism recruitment on their platform and allow ads to appear on those videos. In response, YouTube described the steps it was taking to eliminate extremist content, and told advertisers that they would be careful where their ads were placed. He highlighted many creators as a safe option.
But neither YouTube nor Google were prepared for what Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg, one of YouTube's richest independent creators, would do.
In mid-February 2017, The Wall Street Journal discovered an older Kjellberg video that included him reacting to a poster held by two children that read: "Death to all Jews." The Semitic commentary was included in one of his "reaction" videos about Fiverr, after having turned to a more varied channel instead of just focusing on the games.
His video, along with ad reports that appeared on terrorist content, prompted advertisers to leave YouTube. Kjellberg retired from Disney & # 39; s Maker Studios, lost his YouTube Red series, Scare PewDiePie and was removed from his spot on Google Preferred, the premier ad platform for the most prominent YouTube creators .
. "A lot of people loved the video and a lot of people did not, and it's almost like two generations of people arguing whether this is okay or not." Kjellberg said in an 11-minute video about the situation. "I'm sorry for the words I used, since I know they offended people, and I admit that the joke went too far. "
The attention that Kjellberg attracted to YouTube initiated the first" adpocalypse ", a popularized term within the creative community that refers to YouTube demonetizes aggressively the videos that can be problematic, in an effort to prevent companies from halting their spending on advertising.
Aggressive demonetization of videos would become YouTube's go-to move, it would affect everyone, and the best talent YouTube would use the platform to express their complaints, although people understood why the Kjellberg channel had been scrutinized, they were not happy with the greatest effect it had on the ecosystem. they're just paying for Kjellberg's mistake.
While YouTube was dealing with its first apocalypse, a new generation of stars flooded the platform. The closing in January 2017 of Vine, a platform for playing six-second videos, left several creators and influencers without a platform, and many of those stars moved to YouTube. David Dobrik, Liza Koshy, Lele Pons, Danny Gonzalez and, of course, Jake and Logan Paul became instant hits on YouTube, even though many of them had started YouTube channels years before their success on Vine.
YouTube's biggest stars began to follow in the footsteps of the "bro" joke culture from the top. (Think: Jackass but more extreme and organized by attractive twenty-somethings.) Logan Paul pretended to be shot dead in front of young fans; Jake Paul rode dirt bikes in pools; David Dobrik's friends jumped out of the moving cars. The antics were dangerous, but they attracted people's attention. The Viners quickly accumulated tens of millions of subscribers, and they were promoted by YouTube as the new faces of the platform in the company's annual video on YouTube Rewind, which is essentially a highlight for advertisers.
Jake and Logan Paul became the biggest stars of this new wave, performing dangerous stunts, shocking images into their vlogs and selling merchandise to their young audience. Although they were teetering on the edge of what was acceptable and what was not, they never crossed the line to create totally reprehensible content.
But other creators saw something in the Paul brothers that He left them worried. Long-time creators like Kjellberg, who was trying to get his channel back to normal after dealing with the consequences of his actions, and Ethan Klein called the brothers Paul for his dangerous and pointless antics.
"This is YouTube status, guys." Klein said about the video in another video. "These people do not say" how do I make good content? It's more like "How do I do a dangerous and dangerous shit that is so exaggerated that people have to click on it?" "
Their complaints pushed the Pauls even further, the brothers returned the blow with a series of dissenting tracks that brought more than 150 million views, which made them true YouTube celebrities who are incredibly rich
It did not matter that Jake Paul had been evicted for performing YouTube stunts at all hours of the night or that Logan Paul caused a riot in VidCon, a popular YouTube convention, when he met with thousands of his fans. he still promoted them to advertisers and incorporated them into Google Preferred, brands like Nike appeared in Logan Paul's videos, even when those videos included children watching a "joke" of their favorite vlogger shooting against a window.
It was not a sustainable form of entertainment, and everyone seemed to understand it, except for YouTube The Paul brothers were on the way to running out – everything it would take was a big mistake. Even critics of the Pauls, like Kjellberg, empathized with his position, Kjellberg, who faced one controversy after another, talked about feeling as if the right or wrong thing ceased to exist in trying to keep up with the YouTube machine.
"The problem of being a YouTuber or an online artist is that you must constantly beat yourself," Kjellberg said in a 2018 video. "I think a lot of people get carried away by that … they have to keep getting better, and I think it's a good reflection of what happened with Logan Paul. If you make videos every day, it's really hard to keep people interested and make them come back. "
Still, Logan Paul was a small pope compared to YouTube's biggest problems, including the disturbing content of children he had discovered The New York Times and more terrorism content than they emerge on the site. Who cared what two brothers from Ohio were doing? The breaking point would be when Logan Paul visited Japan.
Logan Paul's video "Suicide Forest" irrevocably changed YouTube.
In it, Paul and his friends walk through the Aokigahara forest of Japan, where they found the body of a man. Based on the video, it seems that recently he had died by suicide. Instead of turning off the camera, Paul walks towards the body. He does not stop there. It approaches the man's hands and pockets. In post-production, Paul blurred the man's face, but it's hard to see the video as anything more than a heinous gesture of disrespect.
Within hours of posting the video, Paul's name began to show trend. Actors like Aaron Paul (no relation), influencers like Chrissy Teigen and prominent YouTubers called Paul for his atrocious behavior.
YouTube reacted with a familiar strategy: it imposed strong restrictions on its Partners Program (which recognizes creators who can earn ad revenue on their videos), which considerably limits the amount of videos that were monetized with the ads. In a January 2018 blog post announcing the changes, Robert Kyncl, YouTube's chief business officer, said the move "would allow us to significantly improve our ability to identify creators who contribute positively to the community," and She added that "these higher standards will also help prevent potentially inappropriate videos from being monetized, which can affect income for all."
Once again, the effects spread throughout the community: smaller creators like Christine Barger , a lifestyle creator who was in the Partner Program, would be expelled from YouTube's monetization program after the new sanctions.
"I feel stupid for crying just because. Honestly, it's silly; It's not like they're millions of dollars. It's not about money. It's about the fact that I've been a part of YouTube for a long time, and finally I've tried to be part of this platform, just to feel that they do not care about the small creators, "he said.
The only people who did not receive the It was the YouTube executives themselves, something that commentators like Philip DeFranco disagreed with after the controversy came up for the first time. "We're talking about the biggest creator on YouTube who posted a video that had more of 6 million visits, it was a trend on YouTube, which certainly had to be marked by tons of people, "said DeFranco.
" The only reason he was shot down, Logan or his team did it, and YouTube He did nothing Part of Logan Paul's problem is that YouTube is an accomplice or ignorant. "
For small creators, the following months would be even worse: YouTube faced an escalation of radicalization crisis and extensive conspiracy theories that had been ignored by executives for years.
The company's first small efforts to address these serious problems: promoting the content of musicians, night shows and recommending fewer independent creators. huge side effects in the mid-level creators that had once been the heart of the platform during its golden period, pushed YouTube into the same Hollywood content it had once been an alternative to.
In 2014, YouTube launched a brilliant advertising campaign in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, promote the success of its own and independent. artists Writers, actors, directors and comedians like Video Game High School Freddie Wong and Matt Arnold, baker Rosanna Pansino and Epic Rap Battles
But by the middle of 2018, lifestyle vloggers like Carrie Crista, which has just under 40,000 subscribers, proclaimed how the community felt: forgotten. "It seems YouTube has forgotten who made the platform what it is," said Crista PR Week . In its bid to compete with Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, he said, YouTube is "pushing content creators away instead of inviting them to a social platform that encourages them to be creative in a way that other platforms can not."  YouTube ends up "giving priority to a very specific type of person" with money to create polished content
Even people outside of YouTube saw what was happening. "YouTube is inevitably going to be like television, but they never told their creators," said Jamie Cohen, professor of new media at Molloy College, at USA Today in 2018.
When promoting videos that comply with certain criteria, YouTube gives advice on scales in favor of organizations or creators, mostly large, who can meet these standards. "Editing, creating thumbnails, takes time," said Juliana Sabo, a creator with fewer than 1,000 subscribers, in 2018 after the YouTube Partner Program changed. "You're only giving priority to a very specific type of person: the kind of person who has the time and money to produce that content."
Individual YouTube creators could not keep up with the set of YouTube algorithms. But traditional and traditional media could: night shows began to dominate YouTube, along with the music videos of the major record labels. The platform now had the look it had when it started, but with the Hollywood seal of approval.
YouTube executives like Kyncl are not trying to hide it either, in 2018 the company in advance in New York City, a presentation for advertisers at Radio City Music Hall, the main The creators were nowhere to be found, instead, the YouTube that the company wants the advertisers to see: Ariana Grande in Vevo, series by Kevin Hart and Demi Lovato, clips of The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon
"A year and a half ago, everything was fine," says Danny Philippou on the Impaulsive podcast by Logan Paul . "We could do whatever we wanted. We could upload what we wanted, but lately all the videos have been demonetized and have ruined us. Do not get us wrong we still put 200 percent effort into every video we do, but in a creative and financial way we have been a bit paralyzed. "
The RackaRacka brothers are tired.
" We loved it before when it was like, & # 39; Oh, you are doing something unique and different. Let's help, guys, so they can get views and have eyes on that, "Danny says." I'd love to go back to that. We have so many great and incredible ideas that we'd love to do, but it does not make sense to do it on YouTube. "
In the process of writing this story, YouTube representatives called several times to ask about the piece and request it, more time to respond, ultimately the company declined to comment, even on why the RackaRacka video Mortal Kombat did not appear in the search, as of this week, the video has begun to appear again.
There is a moment in the podcast, towards the end, when Logan looks at the Philippou brothers and asks them: "And what are you doing? What happens next? "They laugh, and then Michael responds without hesitation, with the convenience of someone who has thought about this for some time.
"We're leaving, we found somewhere else that he wants our videos, that used to be YouTube, but it's not anymore, and I do not think he'll ever be again."