How has YouTube changed from the beginning

Youtube A platform between hobby and hate

One billion hours - that's how long users around the world watch videos on YouTube every day. Youtubers upload more than 500 hours of video material to the video platform - every minute.

"In the beginning, YouTube was really a platform where only private individuals, amateurs, if you will, uploaded and shared short videos."

Leonhard Dobusch is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. Among other things, he researches the organization and management of digital communities.

"Today we are in a situation where several million hours of video are uploaded a day. What has also happened is that at least in some areas there has been a professionalization. Videos can live: the so-called Youtubers. A new profession has actually emerged. "

"Youtube, if you take it a little wider, is not just a platform, it's an ecosystem. The ecosystem consists of the platform on the one hand, of course, and many, many creatives who use this platform to reach an audience on the other manage to interact with their fans and make money. "

Andreas Briese, Country Manager Youtube Germany. He is the highest boss of the video platform in this country.

"Youtube has 45 million adult users in Germany who check it out at least once a month. And all Germans over 18 use Youtube on average for 33 minutes."

Youtube was bought by the internet giant Google after a short time (Alexander Pohl / imago stock & people)

The first video was uploaded to Youtube in April 2005. It shows the co-founder of the platform Jawed Karim in the San Diego Zoo. Since this visit to the zoo on video, the platform, which was bought by the search engine giant Google the following year, has developed rapidly. Today YouTube is one of the industry giants on the Internet and an integral part of entertainment, education and politics. Despite all the professionalism - shaky amateur videos are still being added every day. Anyone can upload a video. Andreas Briese:

"This ecosystem was created on the basis of a principle - and the principle is called openness. That is very important to understand. Openness means that everyone, no matter who they are, what they do, where they are, can upload a video, no matter what the topic - as long as this is of course allowed within our community guidelines. "

Youtube has created new media territory

This openness is both a curse and a blessing. While viewers enjoy millions and millions of hours of legitimate and harmless videos, the platform is also used to spread hate videos, propaganda, conspiracy theories and fake news. And there are limits to openness: the creators of creative films repeatedly complain that the company is jeopardizing their financial existence through non-transparent changes. The role of the algorithms, i.e. the technical processes and sorting mechanisms of the platform, is always controversial. However, there is one thing that all actors agree on: Even after 14 years, YouTube is something new, it has created "new territory" in the media.

"We like to define YouTube, without disrespecting it, as the new mainstream. Meant as a medium where content is for everyone. Only this 'content for everyone' is defined a bit differently today. Where in the past fewer programs were made for many , but today everyone puts their own program together, Youtube has something for everyone. "

Youtube is the place where math teachers have as many fans and subscribers as otherwise only channels that share make-up tips or show computer gamers playing. Youtube promotes people in this way: The explanatory videos enable completely new skills - be it manual activities such as carpentry, knitting or cooking, be it modern knowledge such as programming. Students also create explanatory films themselves - and not only learn their own material, but also how to convey it.

Some video makers pursue educational and political goals in equal measure, such as the She * Fix project. Fellow campaigner Maj explains:

"She * Fix is ​​an association of women * who want to increase the visibility of women in the technical field. We would like to show that women are also able to do technical jobs, explain technology, but also - that is, gender-neutral Repairing things, solving technical problems. "

Like how a bicycle tube is mended. At She * Fix, technical and political skills merge. Of course, YouTube was also a genuinely political tool from an early age. But, says Youtube manager Andreas Briese, this function "received public attention for the first time through Rezo."

With Rezo, political commentary seems to have arrived in the Youtube mainstream (Youtube / video still "The Destruction of the CDU" / Channel Rezo ja lol ey)

With Rezo and his video "The Destruction of the CDU", Youtube and Youtuber suddenly crashed into the public eye shortly before the 2019 European elections. But Rezo didn't just attract short-term attention, explains Leonhard Dobusch.

"I think that's what really changed with Rezo this year, that here, you might say, political reporting or at least political commentary has arrived in the Youtube mainstream. Rezo did that in a way that created a political effect. "

"Radicalization Platform Number One"

The facets that the political use of YouTube can have became very clear beforehand - in September 2018 around the right-wing extremist riots in Chemnitz and Köthen. Video makers from the milieu used YouTube for agitation, misinformation and mobilization. Miro Dittrich, network analyst at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, said in autumn 2018 that YouTube had taken on a role that he had as

"One of the number one radicalization platforms. There we see a lot of right-wing extremist and right-wing populist videos in the political arena, which are virtually unchallenged. You saw that strongly in the search results. If you said 'Chemnitz' the days after that, you gave In the top ten results there were one or two contributions from traditional media, and otherwise it was either Russia Today or right-wing extremist or right-wing populist channels. "

Even if Youtube subsequently changed the creation of these search results and since then has preferred to display videos from reputable sources in such situations - even today, the way to questionable content is not far. Leonhard Dobusch:

"There are a number of anecdotal reports that the path from a serious, average video to a somewhat extreme, more questionable to radical videos on Youtube is a very short one. The assumption behind this is that videos are recommended that are well clicked And that YouTube doesn't do that because they like such content, but that it reflects the neutrality of the platform, which is optimized for clicks and length of stay. This leads to the fact that you come into contact with content that you would otherwise, if you were to consume classic media, you would never even see it. "

The algorithms for search, recommendation and personalization aim to keep users on the platform for as long as possible. The longer you watch videos, the more advertising the platform can show. And Youtube earns with every insertion. As a result, individual videos are seen more often than others. Self-reinforcing effects arise.

"This logic of optimizing the length of stay, optimizing the number of clicks: People have started to exploit this for their political purposes. This has resulted in relatively extreme, radical, provocative, emotional content receiving special attention, which leads to Youtube's algorithm reinforced the video, recommended it even more. Therefore, there has been a sort of list, a bias towards more extreme, emotionalizing, more radical content. But this does not only apply to right-wing extremist content. Youtube is also particularly known for being conspiratorial To offer a stage for content of the most varied of political orientations. "

A self-reinforcing process: If you watch certain YouTube videos, you will often see similar content (screenshot YouTube)

For a long time, it was only a conjecture that recommendation algorithms could lead to radicalization. Evidence has been available since late summer 2019. A research group led by the Brazilian Manoel Horta Ribeiro had followed comments under videos from more than ten years and recognized that YouTube users were switching from moderate channels to extreme channels. The YouTube recommendation algorithm played a role in this. Manoel Ribeiro, PhD student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne since mid-2019:

"We found that the communities were accessible to one another. It is easy to reach the more extreme ones from moderate channels, and even the very extreme 'Alt Right' can be reached through the referrals, even if it is less likely."

Study author Manoel Ribeiro is not sure whether the radicalization is actually triggered or only promoted by YouTube and its algorithms. He suspects that technology reinforces existing social tendencies:

"It may be amplifying a problem that already existed."

Google is well aware of the problem. In his Community Guidelines, the platform house rules, so to speak, openly discriminatory content that stirs up hatred and violence is outlawed. Andreas Briese:

"We restrict people who move with content at the limits of these community guidelines. They are not removed because they are still there, but we restrict them by, for example, not allowing comments or them in our 'Related Videos' no longer appear. "

The platform no longer wants to make itself the henchman of extremes who try to exploit exceptional situations such as terrorist attacks or similar events for themselves. They should move far behind videos from reputable sources. However, YouTube critics doubt that YouTube will recognize such a situation quickly enough.

Countermeasures are often taken by non-problematic Youtubers

Youtube has already implemented further measures and has even gone so far as to limit its openness a little - or better the possibilities of making money with the platform. It raised the entry barriers for its compensation program significantly. Now, if you want something from advertising revenue, you must have at least 1,000 subscribers and your content must have been viewed for at least 4,000 hours in the past twelve months. These and other measures that are supposed to make YouTube a better place also have side effects. Time and again, unproblematic YouTubers are affected by the changes. One who has gotten tough is American Dave Pickett.

"Hi. So my name is Dave Pickett and I run the Youtube channel Brick 101."

In his channel, Pickett shows his own buildings made of terminal blocks, and reveals tips and tricks. That brought him plenty of subscribers and views and thus a decent amount of money from YouTube's compensation program.

"It was a great time. I had my own video studio, a part-time employee and then full. We both had health insurances. It felt like the dream job everyone says being a Youtuber is one of those things."

The joy and fun only lasted until November 2017, when new child protection regulations came into effect not only in the USA. Youtubers like Dave Pickett were affected, even though they didn't think they were primarily creating videos for children. Pickett's revenue collapsed. He had to quit his employee and give up the studio. Youtube is a hobby again.

"I now know that I can no longer rely on YouTube advertising revenue as a stable source of income. I learned this lesson the hard way."

Youtube manager Andreas Briese emphasizes that the creative Youtubers are the lifeline of the platform and are therefore cared for, but there is fluctuation:

"If, for example, we have to adjust our monetization policies because content has come onto the platform that is not okay, then that can definitely have an impact. However, we hope that these are usually short-term effects, which on average then reappear balance. "

They didn't with Dave Pickett. Nevertheless, his criticism does not apply to the changes per se, but to the then non-transparent attitude of YouTube. The creative minds were not warned, but caught off guard. The next similar change is due in early 2020. This time the platform had already sent e-mails months in advance.

"The consequences of this are grave. Massive demonetization."

The Youtuber Jörg Sprave has founded a union (Youtube / Jörg Sprave)

The German Youtuber Jörg Sprave also complains about a serious loss of income after a change in the remuneration rules in 2017. Sprave, who became known around the world for his self-made slingshots and twins, found those affected and supporters and in March 2018 founded the "YouTubers' Union" - a union for Youtubers . His goal: more participation. The YouTubers ‘Union will meet YouTube for the first time this year.

Taking platforms accountable

The pressure on the video platform is not only increasing from the authors - also from politics and media supervision. It is feared that platforms like Youtube or Facebook could become too powerful. Manuel Höferlin, media policy spokesman for the FDP in the Bundestag:

"Big Internet corporations that operate around the world, of course, have power on the Internet. I believe that those who have very, very many customers or users can, of course, change opinions to a certain extent, can determine opinions, even if they are themselves always claim that they are 'just' platforms. But by choosing what you see, you naturally only get a spotlight on what is going on around you. "

"Youtube itself does not produce any content. Therefore we are not a content provider. We are a technical platform. And at the same time we help the people who are creative on Youtube and make content available as well as possible in order to be successful."

Just one platform? Viewing Youtube from a media perspective could reveal different things. Researcher Leonhard Dobusch explains:

"The exciting thing about Youtube - and in my opinion this also applies to Facebook - is the hybrid position that these new platforms assume. They are more than a mere platform that simply provides content providers with a stage, such as a cable network operator, for example. who has virtually no influence whatsoever on what ends up on the viewers' television screens. "

Dobusch places the new media intermediaries, as he calls them, between the platform and the classic editorial medium. Accordingly, regulation has yet to be found. Among other things, he thinks of transparent algorithms and supervisory boards.

"When it comes to the possibility of technically disseminating content via a platform, then I think the limits that already exist today are the laws. They prohibit, for example, the spread of Nazi propaganda, hate speech or slander. And me I think you need instruments to enforce something like this more effectively in the digital age. But when it comes to something like recommendation algorithms or the news feed on Facebook, I think the responsibility of the platforms is greater. I believe that stronger instruments are needed to check the whole thing here too. "

Regulations are controversial

The considerations for Youtube, Facebook and Co. are in full swing. This is how Gerd Billen, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, explains in relation to the media intermediaries:

"A discussion in the area of ​​social networks is: Are they to be treated like media? So, like the media, do they have to fulfill certain obligations? That doesn't necessarily mean that a variety of opinions is represented in every medium. But since they have an influence the newsfeed, is a discussion that is also being carried out by the federal states: Is there a need for greater pluralism of opinion here? "

Especially with regard to hate content, fake news or borderline videos and postings, there are considerations to regulate the recommendations via news feeds and similar functions.

"Before the same hatred is always liked and appears further up in the newsfeed, it may need an admixture of neutral or different opinions. The advantage that magazines and newspapers or even the radio have is that I am not just one-sided certain things are informed, but rather have a certain plurality. And that is up to the state media authorities to think about whether and how one can do that. "

Manuel Höferlin (FDP) speaks out against intervention (dpa ZB / Britta Pedersen)

The opposition is not very pleased with such ideas. Manuel Höferlin from the FDP strictly rejects the idea of ​​influencing the platforms or their algorithms.

"I don't believe in creating legal or regulatory diversity because: who then determines diversity? It is absurd to say: We are in favor of neutral diversity of opinion, but we determine what it is like. So it can not be. Then one would, so to speak, intervene again in a steering and judgmental manner. "

Youtuber Dave Pickett is less concerned with the independence of the platforms than with their function. When it comes to regulation, he points out:

"It's hard to predict what will happen because you know that every single event can have a cascading effect across the entire ecosystem."