Gaming YouTube is a mess thanks to a new profanity policy

Swearing on YouTube has become challenging.

In November, YouTube updated the profanity policy in its ad guidelines, which further restricts what users can or can’t say in a video. Now, all kinds of curse words “are treated equally,” rather than considered at different levels of “severity.” Videos with profanity in the thumbnail, title, or first seven seconds may be demonetized. (Under this policy, “hell” and “damn” are no longer considered profanities.)

This week, gaming content creators are saying they have been impacted by the policy, as videos new and old — including videos posted before the new policy was enacted — were marked for “limited” ad revenue. Videos have been demonetized for something as simple as curse words in the first few seconds. And YouTube’s top creators are questioning the viability of the platform, thanks to this new policy and its moderation.

YouTube’s updated profanity policy gained visibility on Sunday when gaming creator Daniel Condren, or RTGame on YouTube, made a video about his experiences with it. In the video, the creator said that YouTube flagged a compilation video of his best clips from 2022, limiting its ability to generate ad revenue. YouTube also marked it “age-restricted,” meaning only people with age-authenticated YouTube accounts, which require a government ID, can view the video. Daniel said this lowered the number of views the video received and made it harder for him to make money off of it.

Condren initially hoped that the limited ad revenue and age-restriction designations would be removed once a person from YouTube support reviewed his video. YouTube uses a combination of humans and machine-learning technology to remove content that violates its policies as quickly as possible. If a user, like Condren, thinks that a mistake was made after an initial strike, they can appeal for a real-life person to review the content and see if it falls within guidelines. Condren made his compilation video using his previously published videos, which YouTube had not marked with any restrictions, so he thought the issue could be resolved. This also wasn’t his first time interacting with YouTube support. When one of Condren’s videos was flagged, a year prior, he resolved the matter after a YouTube worker reviewed the video.

However, his approach appeared to backfire this time. After he flagged the issue by asking for help on Twitter, one more video was marked as age-restricted, and several more were demonetized. After a person from YouTube support reviewed the videos, YouTube maintained its position, Daniel explained, as he showed screenshots from a support email. His video about the popular horror game The Quarry now violated the platform’s violent and graphic content guidelines, thus making it suitable for age-restriction. Other videos were marked for limited monetization due to the new swearing policy.

“It’s genuinely depressing haha. Because I asked YouTube for help with restoring my restricted video [and] I had dozens more limited. I love making videos on YouTube but this has really shown that any success on the platform can disappear on a whim,” Condren told Polygon via email.

Polygon has contacted YouTube for comment and will update the story upon response.

An image from the horror game The Quarry.
Image: Supermassive/2K Games

Content creator frustration has reached a boiling point. It’s not just about the cursing, or the fact that demonetization can retroactively apply to videos posted before such restrictions went into effect. It’s the particularities of the policy. People can still technically swear. YouTube’s policy says “occasional use of profanity” will not “necessarily” make a video “unsuitable for advertising,” like in the case of a music video. But these exceptions can make it seem like cursing is just a matter of jumping through the right hoops.

Some creators are testing out these limits. In a short video titled “youtube is run by fools,” the voice actor and comedian gaming creator SungWon Cho, known as ProZD, notes discrepancies over the persistent lack of moderation for hateful content on the platform, while swearing became increasingly moderated. (Cho has appeared in Polygon’s video content in the past.) In his video, after passing the 15-second mark, he says, “Thank you, YouTube, you fucking donkeys,” and later adds, “What a smart policy that wasn’t created by a bunch of numbskull dumb fucks.” According to a follow-up video, the first has since not been demonetized.

“It’s immensely frustrating, and it incentivizes me to continue to plan for a future where YouTube is no longer part of my life. When sudden policy changes can significantly affect your livelihood at the drop of a hat, you realize just how unsustainable this career is in the long run,” Cho told Polygon over email.

To add insult to injury, creators have described poor communication on the part of YouTube support. According to Condren, YouTube didn’t give him notice that his videos had been flagged. He found out by sitting at his desk and periodically hitting refresh on his YouTube account page, checking for changes to his videos’ ad revenue status. “I put hundreds of hours of my life into this content. I’m really proud of it. It’s always been my dream to be an entertainer and to do this. And now I’m sat here, watching parts of my livelihood just disappear. No notification. No fanfare,” he said in the video.

As a result, Condren has reconsidered his relationship with the platform. “It feels more important than ever for me to diversify my content across multiple channels such as Twitch. There’s very little security on YouTube when the policies on what is and isn’t allowed can be changed and applied retroactively,” he told Polygon.

As for what viewers can do, Cho said it comes back to supporting your creators in other ways.

“If you are a fan of anyone on YouTube, please support them not just with views. Actually subscribe to them, share their videos, engage with them, follow them on other social media. That’s the best way to ensure you can continue to see more videos made by creators that you enjoy.”

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