Why YouTube Keeps Demonetizing Videos of the Hong Kong Protests
The platform’s ‘advertising-friendly’ content rules are hurting creators trying to cover important global events
As protests rage in Hong Kong, news coverage and video footage of the demonstrations have been heavily censored in mainland China, as you might expect from an authoritarian state that tightly controls its media. But some footage of the protests has also been deemed sensitive by a more surprising source: Google-owned YouTube.
Creators of at least two Hong Kong-based YouTube channels covering the demonstrations say that videos, and even whole channels, have been “demonetized” by the tech platform. That means YouTube won’t run ads next to their content, and thus the creators can’t make money from its advertising program.
Demonetization is notably the same step that YouTube took against right-wing comedian Stephen Crowder last month in response to a backlash against his homophobic comments about a gay Vox employee, Carlos Maza. While it isn’t always intended as punishment, it can certainly feel like that to creators who depend on the platform for revenue, and YouTube itself seems to have used it in that way in a June 5 announcement about its plan to tackle hate speech.
Two channels that have been affected, according to their creators, are China Uncensored and Hong Kong Free Press, both of which have been regularly posting videos of the protests, alongside other news coverage and commentary. Both have since had monetization reinstated on some or all of their content, with some of the changes coming shortly after inquiries to YouTube from OneZero.
That YouTube is limiting videos publicizing Hong Kong’s historic protest movement might sound like a nefarious conspiracy, given China’s anger at the protests and Google’s recent efforts to reenter the Chinese market. (Google had shut down its censored Chinese search engine in 2010 in response to cyberattacks and hacks of Chinese human rights activists’ Gmail accounts.) In fact, it’s something more complex: an example of how YouTube’s efforts to please advertisers can end up disincentivizing the creation of videos that tackle important news events.