I’m sure by now most of you have seen it – YouTube is demonetizing firearms related content. For those who haven’t, the apparent motivation for Google’s (who owns YouTube) move is that advertisers are displeased with their content being displayed alongside videos that might be deemed controversial or offensive. This has prompted YouTube to remove ads (monetization) from various types of content, ranging from truly hateful videos to anything even remotely political.
Now, for many of us, there’s little reason to deem gun videos controversial. In fact, few of the firearms channels affected by this ever come close to being offensive. In that regard, Google has taken a political stance on the matter and should freely be criticized for it. As a community, we absolutely should be outraged by this. I strongly encourage readers to crank up the pressure and respectfully contact Google/YouTube to make it clear that this position is not acceptable. Yet, I doubt that will have any real impact.
With respect to the channels affected by this change and at risk of sounding unsympathetic, I have to wonder who could possibly be surprised or unprepared? Just last year, YouTube completely removed Hickok 45’s channel on two separate occasions over petty policy discrepancies. That alone should have been a sufficient warning to other gun channels that trouble could be on the horizon. However, if that wasn’t enough, surely the unprovoked bans issued to firearms content creators by other social media outlets, like Facebook and Instagram, should have done the trick. Moreover, Google’s Adsense network has long denied advertising to traditional, gun-related websites. It doesn’t make what YouTube and others are doing right, but there’s plenty of precedent to suggest that firearms channels and pages are at risk on these platforms.
With those things in mind, the takeaway here should be that gun media needs to diversify as much as possible. Diversification in this case comes from both technical and revenue perspectives. I recently had a chat with a gun enthusiast who wanted to start his own YouTube channel. While I was strongly in support of his endeavor, I also encouraged him to start a blog or separate website to which he could post the videos. This multi-channel approach would make it easier for him to build a following across two different, but similar, user bases. It would also ensure that he maintains at least some control over his content in the event that YouTube decides to be aggressively anti-gun. Other video sites, like Full 30, are also workable alternatives, but sadly they don’t drive the same sort of traffic that YouTube enjoys.
The revenue aspect is inherently related. If your single or dominant stream of revenue comes from Adsense or ad overlays that are vulnerable to these policy changes, your risk is extremely high. Everyone wants unbiased reviews and coverage untainted by manufacturer and retailer dollars, but it’s probably going to be necessary for channels to form these partnerships moving forward. Many already have done so, but look for that trend to grow. Likewise, if companies in the industry want to continue to have their products featured on sites like YouTube, they’re likely going to have to provide some sort of financial support for the creators that make that happen. So brace yourselves for more sponsored content.
Some channels have tried to off-set the reduction in ad revenue by encouraging viewers to contribute via Patreon. Patreon is a fantastic way for content creators to seek donations for their work, but most viewers have no real desire to pay. Let’s be honest, we’re all freeloaders to an extent. My hope is that this turn of events will be the motivation some of us need to get up and support the channels we care about.
Ultimately, the issue here is multifaceted. It’s certainly true that YouTube/Google has taken a clear and unfortunate political stance. Lumping firearms with things like hate speech and graphic violence is wrong and should be loudly condemned. The other side of this exposes content creators’ vulnerability. When all (or most) of your material is hosted on a platform that is completely out of your control, it can disappear in an instant. Hickok and others who have befallen similar fates know this all too well and while a total ban has yet to happen, YouTube’s recent changes have everyone on notice.