Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
YouTube offered more transparency into which videos can run ads and which can’t, including pranks and videos that fall under hateful content, in a breakdown of its monetization guidelines published in May.
One of the most important subjects addressed is when YouTube allows advertising on videos that contain “hateful content.” YouTube will allow ads to run on news videos about topics like homophobia, on “artistic content” like music videos that use “sensitive terminology in a non-hateful way,” and on “comedic content that includes jokes at the expense of marginalized groups in a non-hurtful manner.” What that means, exactly, is less clear. The Verge has reached out to YouTube for more clarification. There is some precedent to try to make sense of it, though.
The clarification seems to come in response to an incident last June, when right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder defended a series of homophobic comments he made about former Vox host and YouTube creator Carlos Maza as “harmless ribbing.” YouTube’s executive team decided the comments didn’t break rules that would require the videos to be taken down, but Crowder lost his ability to monetize his channel as a result.
Since then, YouTube has instituted a series of changes to its content and advertising guidelines. Crowder’s comments are not only prohibited by YouTube’s new content guidelines, but also clearly fall into the “ineligible for advertising” section outlined in YouTube’s guide to monetization.
The more detailed guidelines aim to help creators “understand more clearly the types of content that advertisers may not wish to appear against,” YouTube writes. Creators are often confused by why they can’t run ads on certain videos they believe are advertiser-friendly, creating a back-and-forth between YouTube and the community. The detailed list seems like another attempt in YouTube’s quest to be more transparent.
“We’re not telling you what to create,” the page reads. “Each and every creator on YouTube is unique and contributes to the vibrancy of YouTube.”
There’s also been confusion around when YouTubers can run ads on videos about sensitive topics, particularly stories in the news. For YouTube, sensitive topics span subjects including wars, suicide, and terrorist attacks. Many videos that center on a sensitive issue are ineligible for advertising, but news organizations and channels deemed by Google as sources of news are sometimes exempt.
YouTube now says that “fleeting references” to sensitive subjects made in videos by creators are okay — for example, a video that references a sensitive subject but isn’t the focal point is likely fine for advertisers. YouTube’s guidelines also state that “an event must be relatively recent if it’s going to be considered a sensitive event such as the New Zealand Mosque Shooting.”
Many of the advertising guidelines outlined are pretty obvious. Sexually explicit videos, anything with heavy profanity, and content that glorifies dangerous acts including pranks that could lead to death aren’t allowed to run ads. Some of the content described as ineligible for advertising is often barred from YouTube by the company’s content guidelines — meaning creators can’t upload the video in general, let alone monetize it. Pornography, for example, isn’t allowed on YouTube and is also listed as a type of content ineligible for advertising.
The full chart of what’s acceptable, what isn’t, and the gray areas that YouTube moderators examine on a case-by-case basis are on Google’s Support forum.