The Good, The Bad And The Misunderstood Of 'YouTube Heroes'

from the heroes-villains-and-fools dept

As you may have heard, YouTube has announced a new program called YouTube Heroes that offers the community incentives to help “create the best possible YouTube experience for everyone.” There’s one part of the system that set off alarm bells for every content creator on the site — see if you can guess which one:

Yes, one of the main pillars of the incentive system is moderation as both an activity and a reward: users can gain points by “reporting inappropriate videos accurately”, and can then unlock the ability to mass-flag videos with a special moderation interface. Naturally, this freaked out creators who deal with abuse of the reporting system on a daily basis, and the response has been almost unanimously negative. But as with any incentive system, the details matter, and a video by Folding Ideas digs in to how the points and levels work and offers what I think is the most nuanced and accurate perspective:

Whether or not you watched the video, let’s discuss its points. Firstly, though my initial instinct was that moderation was the primary goal of YouTube Heroes, the rewards make it clear this isn’t the case: adding closed captioning or translated subtitles to videos is by far the most efficient way to rack up points. Internationalizing its huge library of videos, and making them accessible, is a big deal for YouTube and it makes sense that this is the main thrust of the program. In this sense (and perhaps this sense alone) it’s a great idea.

There are still three main complaints, each of a different nature: one is based on a complete misunderstanding, one is legitimate but likely to never come to fruition, and one (yes, the moderation) represents a genuine concern, at least in part.

First, the misunderstanding: the graphics and vague language in YouTube’s promotional video give the distinct impression that in addition to mass-flagging videos, ‘Heroes’ will gain the ability to moderate comments. Not only does this sound ripe for abuse (the YouTube commenting community is frequently toxic and hardly above gaming the system), it also irritated content creators who (unlike on many similar platforms) are unable to even designate their own community moderators for their YouTube channels. But: it isn’t true. Heroes only gain the ability to moderate posts on a YouTube creators forum that is barely-known and comically hard to find (watch the video to see what I mean). So let’s put that one aside.

Second, creators were similarly irritated to learn that high-level Heroes would gain the ability to talk to YouTube staff. If you’ve ever tried to speak to a human at YouTube or anything else connected to Google, you understand why. If even top content creators and channel operators still can’t get in touch with anyone at YouTube, why should community busybodies get to? This represents an utter failure of YouTube on the creator-relations and communications front, but the reason it’s so frustrating is the same reason it’s likely not to matter, because who really believes these Heroes will get any kind of meaningful access? Many of you have been laughing non-stop ever since I wrote the words “talk to YouTube staff”. So let’s file this one away with the broader nightmare of Google customer service.

Finally, there’s the real source of ire: incentives for the reporting of videos, and the potential ability to do so on a mass scale. The latter half has drawn the most fire, but it’s actually the first half that’s likely to matter more: mass-flagging videos is a slight bump in efficiency, but getting points for flagging them is a small incentive that could potentially balloon into an entire army of wanton community police. In theory there’s still the safeguard that all flagged videos will be reviewed by YouTube staff (I know, there’s that joke again) but, if the purpose here is to increase the quantity of flagged videos and identify “trusted” moderators, how effective will that screening really be? Besides, we’ve seen how easily that stuff can go wrong, such as with Facebook’s removal of a famous war photo that we discussed in this week’s podcast.

Will YouTube Heroes lead to a combination of widespread abuse (or wider-spread abuse) of the reporting system by angry trolls, and a general watering down of YouTube’s content by zealous morality police? Possibly. But it’s not clear that the incentives are meaningful enough compared to the ones that already exist (dickishness and righteousness, respectively) to really boost those activities. Then again, sometimes gamification like this has a deep psychological impact. It seems like the possible outcomes only range from “bad” to “nothing much”.

Why did YouTube include moderation activities that it surely knew were unpopular, and at least have the potential to go awry, in the Heroes program? Why did it fail to explain the role of a forum that it surely knew was underexposed and underutilized, and use a graphic that strongly suggested comment moderation? Why did it promise to Heroes rewards that it probably can’t deliver and already consistently fails to deliver to its top content creators? And why did it wrap all these things up with the one really positive idea — which also appears to be the main idea — of encouraging more subtitles and captions? I’m not sure — you’d really think they could have done a better job of designing and launching this program. But the truth is it’s probably not going to be a disaster, and it might even do some good.

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Companies: google, youtube

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Comments on “The Good, The Bad And The Misunderstood Of 'YouTube Heroes'”

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orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

I was, and always am, instantly suspicious of the use of the word “hero(es)”. So it was off to a bad start for me right there.

As for moderation… maybe they are playing fast and loose conceptually with anything you can file under reporting, since they are probably trying to appease the gatekeeping crowd with the video reporting aspects, and felt like fleshing out the whole program with these other “activities”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Much of Youtube’s recent activities have been ripe for inviting competing video services to take much of its market dominance.

Of course the problem is that once competing services emerge corporations and broken governments ran by corporate interests have been quick to shut them down (ie: Megaupload and the original Veoh).

So now we’re still stuck with Youtube and its dominance since no one can really meaningfully start a new company and compete without certain incumbents being quick to shut them down.

Less competition for those that want to distribute their content and less competition for those that consume content. An intended effect indeed, good for both Google/Youtube and good for incumbent corporations that are represented by the RIAA/MPAA. Bad for both content creators and consumers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If there is one thing incumbents are very good at it’s preventing newcomers from entering the market. Either by

A: Buying them out

B: Suing them out of existence even when they don’t have a case due to the mere cost of a lawsuit alone

C: Getting the government to pass a bunch of burdensome laws that make it impossible for them to compete and other forms of regulatory capture.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In YT’s case they don’t actually need to do any of that. YT was being sued left and right when it first appeared, and I’d say the only reason they are still around is because they were bought by a company with enough money to fight back and survive the barrage of lawsuits.

A smaller company though wouldn’t be so lucky and would almost certainly be sued into the ground by companies or groups looking to set a favorable precedent they could use elsewhere, including against YT.

The only way a viable YT competitor is going to enter the market and stick around long enough to matter is if it’s owned from the start by a company willing and able to fight off a whole slew of lawsuits, and that has it’s own set of problems, namely that companies generally care first and foremost about profits and aren’t likely to back a project that they know is going to invite hefty legal expenses unless they also know it’s going to bring in more than it costs.

Anonymous Coward says:

This can only go bad

I am going to be pessimistic on this one. I think the Heroes will become Zeroes. People will gang up on creators and content they don’t like. There will be no way that actual YouTube employees will be able to review the mass quantity of video that will be flagged. There will be no way a creator will be able to fight it.

Anonymous Coward says:

The questions in the last paragraph can all be easily addressed with one single answer:
We’re a multi-billion dollar company that stopped caring what our users want the second we hit our first billion, just like every other multi-billion dollar company out there. You’d think people would have figured this out by now. Stop complaining and click our ads.


Ruby says:

From what I’ve heard, from people that have worked on similar programs for other Google projects, it’s unlikely a single “hero” flagging a single video will do much.

It seems that you would need several Heroes to all flag the same vid and even then it would just be sent to an actual staffer for review.

Additionally, repeated invalid flags would get you banned from the program.

So, for instance, if I was a hero and I ran around flagging all those annoying (advertisement-laden) fake Marvel movie trailers that only exist to obtain add revenue by tricking people, most likely nothing would happen until others did the same, at which point a staffer would take a look and (hopefully) get rid of that annoying, nonsense clutter.

But, if I also flagged vids that, say, talk about how awful Marvel is and how much better DC is. Nothing would happen unless others did the same…at which point me an all the other would lose our status, without the maliciously flagged videos being being affected at all.

If that’s the case, I really don’t have a problem with this.

Michael Price says:

Re: Re:

“It seems that you would need several Heroes to all flag the same vid and even then it would just be sent to an actual staffer for review.

Additionally, repeated invalid flags would get you banned from the program.”
That’s great if it’s true, but there was no indication of that in Youtube’s video. So I went to and there’s this.

“Any abuse of the point system or the Programme, or other violative behaviour, may reduce the points accrued in your programme account and/or restrict or prohibit any aspect of your participation in the Programme.”
“You must comply with these Rules at all times. By way of example, and not as a limitation, you agree that when using Google products or services, you will not:
…submit fake, falsified, misleading or inappropriate contributions.”
So yeah there appears to be a system where if you false flag or otherwise abuse the system. The problem is that they haven’t really codified or emphasized that side of it, so it’s hard to see if it will work correctly. It could be made to work if they wanted it to, but youtube doesn’t seem to want it’s system to work well. There’s constant malicious flagging while I can still steal copyrighted material at will.

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