- A slew of YouTubers has been mistakenly demonetized in the past year, with the platform stripping their videos of the opportunity to make money, while still keeping them up on the site.
- YouTubers with sizeable followings who rely on making money from the platform have vocally protested the phenomenon in order to regain monetization.
- Three YouTubers who were mistakenly demonetized told Insider that when they were demonetized, they were given no options for immediate appeal and no options to recover lost profits — which can sometimes amount to thousands of dollars.
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Jake Sandt is like any normal college kid in Ohio — going to class, eating at Panera, and maintaining an active presence on social media. But the 18-year-old stands apart from his peers with his successful YouTube channel JakeyonceTV, where he primarily makes videos recapping and “spilling tea” about the hit drag queen reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Sandt’s channel, which now has over 63,000 subscribers and more than 19,200,000 views, brought in enough money to support his pursuit of a college degree in journalism and buy occasional gifts for his family, he told Insider. But then the rare college financial security Sandt had created for himself through YouTube came crashing down in an instant.
Sandt, like many creators in recent months, found himself demonetized without warning, unable to continue to bring in the income he relied on from the content machine he had built. But Sandt wasn’t dodging YouTube’s rules or terms of service — he, along with others, was mistakenly demonetized for weeks with no option to recover lost profits.
YouTubers’ lives are being disrupted without warning, and there’s little they can do to reach the company
Sandt first learned that his channel was demonetized through an email.
“My heart dropped,” he said.
According to Sandt, YouTube claimed that he was in violation of their policy that forbade re-using content already on their platform. The platform still kept his videos publicly listed on the site, despite the content regulations it claimed Sandt had violated. YouTube just took away his ability to make money off of them.
Sandt, who often includes modified clips of “Drag Race” and other online shows in his commentary videos, says that all of his content is transformative and falls under Fair Use allowances under US law, but Sandt was given no option to appeal the decision issued by YouTube.
Unlike the three-strikes copyright system used to patrol copyright violations on the platform, YouTube’s monetization system issued no warnings before suspending creators for 30 days before they could re-apply, stripping them of their ability to make money on the platform for a substantial period of time.
For Jake, the decision was near-catastrophic for his finances. “It changed everything,” he said. “I felt like I had to hang onto everything — I wasn’t going places, I wasn’t really buying, my parents were helping me out a lot.”
Other creators had similar experiences.
Alex Beckham, the creator behind “Man on the Internet,” a channel that puts lyrics to video game music, said he similarly was demonetized without warning. “It just kind of happened,” he said. “I got emailed saying, ‘Hey, you can’t live stream anymore,’ And 20 minutes later another email came to explain that ‘Oh yeah, we took away monetization because of reused content.'”
“That was a very stressful day where I didn’t get very good sleep,” Beckham recalled. “I was thinking ‘Oh God, oh God, how am I going to pay the people who work with me on all these videos.’ I’m not really a lone wolf, I’ve got a big cast and crew.”
Creators were left screaming into YouTube’s void
David Hoffman, a 78-year-old YouTuber, repurposes content from his decades-long film career into YouTube videos that make up a third of his income. Like Sandt and Beckham, Hoffman was demonetized for what one email from YouTube Support called “duplication.” He wrote physical letters, made calls, and emailed the company’s support team repeatedly.
“I understand that you wanted to know more why your monetization on your channel has been disabled,” a member of YouTube’s Support Team wrote to Hoffman in an email. “Unfortunately, we cannot provide you specific details on what guideline your content has violated and also, we’re not able to provide you where your channel does not comply with YouTube’s YouTube Partner Program terms.”
Despite the live person on the other end of the support team telling Hoffman he wasn’t eligible for YouTube’s Partner Program anymore, the entire decision was deemed to be a mistake over two months later, and Hoffman was finally monetized again without ever receiving any explanation.
“I was depressed,” Hoffman told Insider. “I didn’t feel like doing it anymore. I felt that the enormous power of the network just came down on my head without any warning and with no recourse. Almost like you’ve been fired from your job and you’ve been removed from your office and you have no idea why and you can never talk to anybody.”
Many YouTubers have felt that their only option to challenge demonetization is to go public with the problem
Sandt and Beckham also found communications with YouTube around their demonetization to be confusing and opaque — leading both to turn to public cries for help.
“The only way to get any answer out of them is to go public about it, otherwise they don’t respond,” said Sandt, who spoke publicly about the incident on Instagram Live, YouTube, and Twitter, where he tagged @TeamYouTube — YouTube’s paradoxical primary method of communication with aggrieved creators.
YouTube’s only response was to point Sandt in the direction of the page that explained the decision.
Nearly three weeks later, YouTube tweeted at Sandt that the demonetization was a mistake.
Hey — we missed this tweet originally, but just confirmed that your channel has been re-approved for monetization/YPP. Sorry this happened and thanks for being patient while we sorted it out!!
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) July 29, 2019
Beckham similarly made a video explaining his situation and posted it on Twitter, also mentioning @TeamYouTube and emailing them. He was remonetized within 24 hours.
His high-profile tactics worked. “I don’t recall any other time that monetization has gotten back that fast for a channel,” Beckham said.
“I was expecting to batten down the hatches for a war of attrition with YouTube,” Beckham, who has almost 280,000 subscribers, told Insider. He estimates he lost between $150 and $200 during his short suspension.
YouTubers haven’t been given an option to recover money lost by mistaken demonetization
Despite the slew of mishaps caused by Google and YouTube, creators haven’t been given an option to recover lost funds.
A YouTube representative told Insider the company won’t reimburse creators for the money they lost during a mistaken period of demonetization because it can’t calculate the amount of revenue the channels would have made.
In a step made to attempt to address its admitted mistakes, YouTube has launched a new pilot program that will allow creators to submit an appeal video internally, in response to demonetization decisions, explaining their “creative process” and what their channel entails. The platform says it will get back to them within seven days.
Before the pilot, there was no specific means of appealing the demonetization decision outside of re-applying in 30 days, making a fuss and tagging @TeamYouTube, or contacting YouTube’s general support email. YouTube’s new program seemingly attempts to move the appeals that were already happening on the platform publicly, to an internal process.
YouTube wouldn’t specify whether it uses an algorithm at any point in the demonetization process, but emphasized that at some point in the cycle, humans review the flagged accounts. For Sandt, Beckham, and Hoffman, a live person reviewed each account and mistakenly determined that they had reused content without putting an original spin on it, a YouTube representative told Insider.
Whether the mistake was algorithmic or not, Sandt, who says he lost at least over $1,000 during his demonitized period, says that the experience taught him a valuable lesson — “do not rely on of AdSense. Do not.” In the wake of demonetization, Sandt has made an effort to diversify his revenue streams, creating a Patreon where users can pay to access his videos early.
“It doesn’t matter how big that check is, ’cause they can just take it away,” Sandt said. “No matter how hard you’ve worked and no matter how great their system gets, you need to have backup plans, you need to have multiple platforms.”