The issue of pedophiles sexualizing content on YouTube has been around for some time. Back in June 2018, a popular French YouTuber highlighted this in a video which failed to disseminate its message into the mainstream.
Most recently, Matt Watson, a relatively small-time YouTuber with 32,000 subscribers, uploaded a video that went viral on YouTube and became an explosive Reddit thread. In the span of three days, the video was watched 1.75 million times (it currently sits at over 3 million hits), while his Reddit post is currently the 21st highest-voted thread in the site’s history.
Encouraged by Watson, the hashtag #YouTubeWakeUp began trending as a social media campaign against YouTube in the wake of his video.
Lots of eyes were on this one.
Just three days later, Wired ran an article detailing their own investigation on the same topic, while major publications began reporting on it too. The issue quickly became the “talk of the town” across the media landscape.
The issue of YouTube pedophiles using the platform is bad enough. What’s worse is that there have been countless examples of videos with pedophile comments being monetized, some by innocent uploaders of videos—others by pedophiles using their channel as a hub to share re-uploaded content featuring young girls.
In the end, the grossly prevalent nature of videos plagued by pedophilia raised immense concern across online communities, leading YouTube and many of its advertisers to take immediate action.
Many of the monetized videos making use of Google’s AdSense program promoted pre-roll advertisements from the likes of Disney, L’Oreal, Peloton, Grammarly, Fortnite, and other brand advertisers while YouTube pedophile comments ravaged the comments section.
Some brands and advertisers have sought to distance themselves from YouTube following the objectionable revelations. Needless to say, any association with child exploitation or pedophiles is hugely damaging to brand image, more so for brands with a large presence in the public eye, and particularly for child-friendly brands like Disney and Hasbro.
Almost immediately in the wake of the scandal, brands started boycotting YouTube and stopped ad buying with Google’s AdSense. Disney, Nestlé, AT&T, GNC, Epic Games, McDonald’s, and many more announced they had pulled the plug on YouTube advertising.
This is especially significant considering the tantalizingly high ROI that YouTube offers brands. By deserting YouTube, companies risk losing out on the platform’s phenomenal reach and marketing potential.
For many brands, however, it’s a sacrifice they’re more than willing to take, especially with YouTube already having been caught up in a similar controversy in late 2017—known as YouTube Adpocalypse—again, the result of an investigation by a major publication.
With advertisers already burned, it hasn’t taken much to abandon YouTube en masse again.
YouTube’s pedophile issue isn’t the first time a YouTube ad scandal has reared its head. In 2017, advertisers grew skittish of their ads appearing alongside extremist videos. In 2018, advertisers grew wary of YouTube advertising when popular influencer Logan Paul posted a highly controversial video that YouTube subsequently took too long to address and penalize.
This time around, YouTube acted a little quicker with the instinctive action to start issuing wholesale bans. The timing was poor, as YouTube has just announced an update dealing with a separate controversy regarding copyright striking in the community in a bid to assuage creators.
YouTube ultimately took the following steps to improve child safety and eliminate the YouTube pedophile problem:
The process to prevent another “Adpocalypse” and reassure advertisers and users appears to be top-of-mind for YouTube.
With brands finally coming to the realization that YouTube is not immune to brand safety threats, many are doing a cost-benefit analysis of advertising on the platform—many have decided to withdraw from AdSense.
This, of course, hits creators hardest. Scarred by the last Adpocalypse in 2017, which saw some creators lose as much as 80% of their revenue generated from ads, YouTube creators are rightfully worried about the implications of brands departing again.
I’m not reporting the story because it negatively affects the whole YouTube community. We don’t need another ad apocalypse. What I have done behind the scenes though is reached out to my YouTube contacts showing them the video & my team is showing them content to take down. https://t.co/IsMmfXwACK
— KEEM ? (@KEEMSTAR) February 18, 2019
Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have noted their discomfort with the scandal and the results of YouTube’s response, which many see as a method to appease brands at the expense of creators.
YouTube recently had to backtrack on its move to start demonetizing videos which had “inappropriate comments,” as it caused dismay among influencers—many of whom have had perfectly innocent videos demonetized as a result.
Regarding the @TeamYouTube tweet that has the community freaking out right now.
I reached out to YT. Don’t have an official statement yet, but 1. It sounds like this isn’t policy for every video on YT and 2. It’s likely comment disabling will be preferred over demonetization. pic.twitter.com/q7dpuztDxq
— Philip DeFranco (@PhillyD) February 22, 2019
The panic and confusion in the creator community in light of YouTube’s cleanup efforts is palpable.
YouTube has spent several years trying to ‘clean up’ their hosted content in order to make it more palatable to advertisers. Being associated with pedophiles could be a hammer blow to brand image.
Google understands perfectly well that the prosperity of YouTube lives and dies by advertising. So much so is this the driving factor that they’ve dictated the content guidelines for its creators with the intent of making the platform as advertiser-friendly as humanly possible—to the chagrin of many.
This particular issue has been a thorn in YouTube’s side as the platform has battled child predators for a while now. Demonetization policies intended to clamp down on harmful content have struggled to contain the issue, and monitoring the 1 billion hours of video watched every day by users is a near impossible task.
It’s a difficult situation for creators. Many are justifiably concerned that the YouTube pedophile issue is stirring up a second Adpocalypse. Effectively, YouTube is casting its demonetization net wider than ever before to show users they’re serious about protecting children—they’re also proving that YouTube brand safety is at the forefront too.
After the last Adpocalypse, many influencers turned to other revenue streams such as merchandise and Patreon as an alternative to relying solely on Google’s AdSense. In light of Matt Watson’s move to hold YouTube accountable and encourage brands and creators to boycott, YouTubers don’t think that will solve the issue—it’ll only hurt their livelihood.
Will top YouTube creators search for other viable channels? Probably not—most will likely stick around without experiencing consequences of the YouTube Adpocalypse Part II, but some may decide to take action based on principle alone.
Most major brands have responded as expected in the initial aftermath. Many have taken their ad dollars away from Google until sufficient changes are made that ensure brand safety, even if it means sacrificing ROI from YouTube advertising.
It’s perfectly reasonable for brands to demand premium security when advertising on YouTube, and those who have pulled ads will likely return as they have in the past once the worst blows over.
Some media buyers in the industry remain unconcerned by the scandal, viewing it as nothing more than a temporary pause while YouTube proactively responds.
YouTube’s pedophile controversy isn’t over yet, but YouTube has sought to patch up the sore spots by taking both immediate and calculated actions. YouTube is on a constant quest to assure advertisers, creators, and users of its integrity despite the presence of criminal and offensive activity lurking on its platform.
Departed advertisers will return, sooner or later, and creators will take it or leave it.
While the incident will (hopefully) mean the end of YouTube pedophiles, it doesn’t necessarily mean major brands will permanently abandon YouTube advertising or that creators will deactivate their channels indefinitely. If so, these moves will only register as blips in 2019 YouTube trends.