YouTube's future is not bright enough to require shades

You probably heard about YouTube’s new policies regarding what sorts of “hateful” content can be uploaded. This quickly resulted in some either disturbing or hilarious reports (depending on your preference), such as history teachers being shut down for uploading archival footage from Nazi Germany. But how is the public reacting to this news and do they have any faith that the company’s censors will behave in a fair and accountable fashion?

Not according to a new poll from Scott Rasmussen. Barely a quarter of people surveyed believe that YouTube will implement the rules fairly, while more than a third think they’ll be putting a biased thumb on the scale. Oddly, a near majority either aren’t sure or have no opinion on the matter.

Thirty-four percent (34%) of voters believe YouTube will likely use new content rules to censor views that it disagrees with while 26% believe it will impose the rules fairly. A national survey found that a plurality–40%–are not sure.

Republicans, by a 44% to 21% margin, believe YouTube will use the rules for censorship. Independent voters, by a 34% to 24% margin, tend to agree. Democrats, however have a different view. Thirty-three percent (33%) of those in Nancy Pelosi’s party believe YouTube will apply the rules equally while just 25% think they will become a tool for censorship (see crosstab results).

The survey also found that 29% believe YouTube is an unbiased platform for all users while 20% believe it is biased against conservatives. Just 6% think the Google owned platform is biased against liberals. Forty-four percent (44%) aren’t sure.

The lack of faith in YouTube’s neutrality when it comes to political matters is understandable. They’ve already shown repeatedly that they won’t be allowing “dangerous” content on their platform. The problem is, they’re the ones who get to define the word “dangerous” and as with so many other, similar debates, that definition generally winds up being anything that liberals disagree with or feel offended by. But it’s a private company, not the Government, so it’s really not a free speech issue.

So will this have a big impact on the company’s future? Color me skeptical. Consider the size of YouTube’s user base versus the number of people likely to be affected. YouTube now has nearly two billion people actively logging in to upload or view videos every month. The total number of videos on the platform isn’t known precisely (and it changes by the second… literally) but it’s in excess of five billion. This may be hard to believe if you spend most of your online time steeped in political news and opinion, but the political content really is only a tiny sliver of that total volume. There are probably a thousand times more videos of somebody’s pets or random dudes smashing their genitalia onto fire hydrants while skateboarding than there are of political speeches and commentary. There’s a whole universe of channel owners and viewers out there that don’t give a fig about politics.

Which brings us to the censorship angle. There are only two major categories of content that wind up being censored on a regular basis… pornography and politics. The porn rules are kind of obvious, but people dance up to the edge of that line regularly and YouTube weeds out the hardcore stuff as quickly as they can. But the political censorship is far hazier. Most of the time you won’t know that you’ve violated their “hate speech” guidelines until your account is suspended or deleted. And the vast, vast majority of such suspensions are handed down to conservatives.

So what if everyone packs up and leaves in disgust, looking for another platform to publish their political content on? I predict that pretty much nothing will happen. As mentioned above, they have too many users to notice. And they know there isn’t another platform out there with their capacity and bandwidth (yet), so where will those people go? YouTube can censor content pretty much as they like and they won’t be made to pay a price for it. They got into the game at the right time and wound up swallowing the world. And there is no mechanism available to make them behave any better.