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.