YouTube’s glory days as a public platform for the common people are gone. In recent days, the company made a convoluted announcement their latest meetings with a content creators labor union will avoid official negotiations, proving the site is determined to remain the big dog monopoly power over the unaccountable big tech industry. Following a year and a half of waiting for corporate cooperation, this decision seemingly left the workers with no choice but to take the fight to the courts, both legal and of the public opinion.
“We explained to the union in great detail what YouTube is doing in terms of transparency and support for YouTubers,” the platform spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CNET. “But we have also made clear that we are not going to negotiate their demands.” According to the union’s statements, the company only invited them to meet at Google’s Berlin office to “discuss some fundamental questions about the future of work.”
This effectively makes the meeting a theatrical affair, implying attendance is designed to simply collect creator feedback and maintain pro-consumer optics while ignoring demands through bad faith dismissal before consideration. “We did not ask them to bow to our demands within the deadline,” emailed Jörg Sprave, the founder of and spokesman for the YouTube Union, “we just asked them to enter into talks with us. They did that, so we are very happy with our campaign success so far. But of course, there is plenty of work ahead of us. The clock is paused, not stopped.”
This work refers to the launch of their activist campaign pressuring the video monopoly to enforce substantive policy reforms heading into the future. These include ease of monetization for smaller channels, the end of arbitrary demonetization, increased transparency into moderation decisions, direct communication under “the right to speak to a real person” (especially in the case of channel deletion), abolishment of non-neutral “YouTube preferred” features, distribution of revenue based on audience retention rather than ad value and overall clearer policies as to what constitutes an infringement and equal punishment. For YouTube, these areas are beyond the limit for discussion. For everyone else, questions remain on their lips. As for the union, the courts are their means of obtaining some answers.
In the past, YouTubers have failed to unionize due to the decentralized nature of their workforce. While the platform may function as a monopolistic entity in the corporate world, maintaining a 73.39% of the market share and almost 2 billion users every month ruled under their thumb through meek A.I. and admins, unions are fundamentally difficult to organize given it’s a world-wide market of workers across the globe with different laws, judges, politicians, languages, currencies, cultures and so on. This new lawsuit, however, could see change coming to the platform’s conduct.
Initially, the YouTubers Union was made up of 20,000 members across social media. Thanks to their latest association with IG Metall, one of the country’s largest unions in terms of material, legal and social clout, an increased legitimacy could force the video platform to start paying attention to how it runs its site. “The pressure we put on Google and YouTube together with the YouTubers Union has paid off,” said Christiane Benner, the second chairwoman of IG Metall, in a public post announcing the agreement. “We succeeded in bringing Google to the table. We are looking forward to the talks and want a quick appointment. There we will see what changes YouTube is prepared to make.”
It’s unlikely for YouTube to make these changes willingly. Give the union as much collective bargaining as they want, it won’t change the fundamental problems with the platform. The money to sweeten the distribution is there, but given the scale of the platform, where over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, it’s impossible for the platform to adhere to necessary practice such as due process, humanized content moderation and ease of knowledge of every case coming across the platform. This doesn’t excuse the platform for neglecting such ethics, but shows the problem is more so their systematic devotion to an almighty dollar than for commitment to justice on the platform.
This could require a mix of decentralized anti-trust cases along with nationalized non-profit seizures of these new online public space, though this should be considered with caution. Even though YouTube doesn’t see itself as more than a site hosting videos, creators see they’re the ones generating the audience, maintaining their retention, pressuring advertisers to seek online marketing, policing when their community requires enforcement or reinstatement and yet they can’t reap the fruits of their own labor. And while legally, YouTube is a private platform given privileges critics see as unjust, unions are there to pick up the pieces even if it’s an underdog story that could get messy.
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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