A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal (which I’m sure you’ve heard of) mounted a direct hit on a YouTube star called PewDiePie (who you probably haven’t heard of). If you know any teenagers or young adults, they’ve probably heard of PewDiePie and may not know or care about the venerable old WSJ.
PewDiePie is a YouTube star, actually THE YouTube star. He has 54.5m subscribers (at the time of writing, it’ll be a few hundred thousand more by the time I publish). His videos usually hit 3m views within 24 hours of upload. His three highest viewed videos have 64m, 50m and 47m views. He puts out more than a video a day most weeks. The vast majority of his videos are him playing video games and giving a commentary. PewDiePie receives millions of dollars per year (estimates vary) as his share in the advertising revenue that Google collects each time one of his videos is played.
The Wall Street Journal (according to the latest figures I could find from 2014) has a daily circulation of 2.3 million. It’s certainly possible that PewDiePie acting alone (but with the resources he uses on Google’s YouTube) has built a larger global audience in seven years than the Wall Street Journal’s thousands of staff have built in over a century. And PewDiePie’s audience and reach is growing, the WSJ is probably shrinking.
The short version of the story is that three WSJ reporters watched two years worth of his videos and claimed to have found evidence of antisemitism in PewDiePie’s videos. They contacted Disney and YouTube’s Red Programme (a sponsorship deal for huge YouTube stars) who both publicly distanced themselves from PewDiePie and cancelled contracts costing him millions of dollars.
The allegations against PewDiePie are completely ridiculous, if you want to learn more you can watch some of the videos I link to in these tweets. If you want just one 4 min video this Rebel Media is the one (language warning): In Defense of PewDiePie: #PewDiePieDidNothingWrong.
The next data point is my personal experience with YouTube. I haven’t built a massive YouTube channel. I have some videos that have been successful and a year ago or so I turned on the monetization feature. For a channel like mine, with 1,500 subscribers and a few videos that are consistently popular this amounts to $20 a month. However even this is constantly at risk. Each video I upload, no matter what the content or the description, is automatically flagged as controversial. I must immediately ask for a manual review in order that it may be “monetised”. With most of my videos this happens 24 hours later. That has the side effect of reducing any financial benefit I may get for the initial spike in views after any upload.
The reason for this is that the big brands that buy advertising on YouTube have been made incredibly nervous about the types of content their brands may be appearing alongside. Johnson and Johnson don’t want hand cream adverts appearing next to ISIS beheading videos and nobody wants any product
appearing alongside Nazi imagery and antisemitic memes.
In many ways allowing anyone to use YouTube is like having the broadcast network of the BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS all working for you without having made the massive financial investment in infrastructure.
The internet has, in the course of 20 years, turned a century of investment in distribution systems into a sharply declining asset. When Ebola was sweeping north Africa even the BBC, who once had a global broadcast system, turned to What’sApp messages to spread health news in
French and English! All those years of building and maintaining radio broadcast equipment is turning to dust, replaced by bits and bytes on a common global internet.
Of course old media is threatened. That’s why Disney was sponsoring PewDiePie. My kids, while too young for PewDiePie, are much more knowledgable about the age appropriate YouTubers they follow than the latest Disney characters. And this scares the living daylights out of advertising dependent, legacy media who know their investment in their media brands and distribution systems is being devalued faster than anyone could have predicted 20 years ago.
There are currently anti-free speech campaigns against videos which criticise third wave feminism and a number of other subjects. Anything marked as “controversial” is being de-monetised on YouTube. For sure nobody wants their products associated with Jew hatred or ISIS beheading videos, but what control should big brands have over the material they advertise alongside when it comes to amateur and semi-amateur generated content on blogs, YouTube and other self publishing platforms?
The relevance for those of us talking positively about Israel and rebutting endless lies and slanders against the Jewish people is that our entire subject area is already considered “controversial”. What are the practical implications?
YouTube channels that talk about Israel or rebut hate speech against Jews (like Palestine Media Watch or MEMRI) are at risk of being taken down. Already my own channel is very hard to place advertising alongside: this was never a huge money spinner but removing any access to financial compensation for the huge work I put in does put a damper on creating new material. Eventually this will extend to the Google Adverts that appear on sites like this one. That is a serious problem.
The darker future is that this goes beyond advertising and pressure is brought down on those who host “controversial” material or the social networks that help many of us spread our work. That’s not just an indirect attack on an ability to raise funds, that would be the shutting down of speech. This is already common on Facebook and Twitter, both with crowd reporting systems that allow Social Justice Warriors and other far left devotees of Saul Alinsky to attempt to shut out arguments and ideas they have no answer for.
Finally, if you’re still interested in this subject, I’m embedding just one video here. It’s a fantastic overview of all this and goes into some more detail.