The sordid fall of YouTube in promoting scams

With great influence comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, YouTube seems to ignore this.

Last weekend, I was watching a sports stream on YouTube. Talented and fearless athletes on the screen, a glass of wine in one hand and a cat purring underneath the other, you know, those perfect Saturday afternoons. If only streaming wasn’t interrupted every few minutes by annoying ads. They usually come in a series of two ads that are played in a row, which can be skipped after five seconds.

Just when I was thinking of subscribing to a paid version to free myself from learning more about flying detergents, half-eaten doughnuts, striped slippers and the best tampons ever, I saw the following:

„To verify your address, just send 0.5 to 200 ETH to the address below and get 1 to 400 ETH (x2 back)“.

This tired old proposition, which would offend anyone slightly familiar with the world of cryptomone technology (including my grandmother), was accompanied by a video interview with Changpeng Zhao of Binance taken from what appears to be a Forbes event. The shot was embellished with the Ethereum and Binance logos.

A suitably ambiguous policy

If I want to post a video of my little nephew dancing to a pop song, he risks being quickly blocked for violating intellectual property rights. Is that fair? Possibly.

When an educational streaming video on crypto currency is organised by Cointelegraph or a crypto currency vlogger, it runs the risk of being blocked for „harmful content“, which has happened several times this year so far. This is ridiculous.

If people keep falling for Elon Musk’s fake scams offering Bitcoin Millionaire (BTC) from countless fake accounts created specifically to cheat, it’s not YouTube’s responsibility. OK, I totally agree; everyone needs to do their own research when making any investment decision. But no one seems to be responsible for the ads that YouTube exposes its audience to. Atrocious.

The fact that the largest video hosting platform of our time is brazenly allowing itself to promote scams is deeply unfair. This brings to mind the Roman expression of pecunia non olet – that money does not stink, regardless of whether it is generated through human waste or exploitative practices. Whether it stinks or not, an unpleasant aftertaste lingers and will not be easily forgotten.

It is truly sad that one of the world’s most prominent technology companies freely puts its base of two billion users at risk by promoting crooks and scammers. Despite all the prosperity of YouTube, the platform has not bothered to implement a sufficient scam verification process for its sales team. It is highly unprofessional for such an influential organisation to lack clear policies on what advertising content is deemed suitable for monetisation.

As a journalist, I am very sensitive to bad media practices that promote bad actors, especially in the sensitive area of new technologies, where the difference between a promising project and a scam could define the sustainability of the industry. The media’s job is to double-check everything they report to the world, use reliable sources and apply scam-checking tools when necessary. Partnerships and sales should reflect the same approach.

As a user, I see no difference between harmful content and annoying scam ads placed on videos. It plays on my trust, puts my material well-being at risk and, when not harmful, is downright offensive by assuming a lack of common sense in your audience.

YouTube fails its users

This is what can be found on the YouTube website: „The safety of our creators, viewers and partners is our highest priority, and we hope that each of you will help us protect this unique and vibrant community. It is important that you understand our Community Guidelines, and the role they play in our shared responsibility to keep YouTube safe. Please take the time to carefully read the policy below. The policy clarifies:

„YouTube does not allow spam, scams or other deceptive practices that take advantage of the YouTube community. Nor do we allow content whose primary purpose is to mislead others into leaving YouTube for another site.“

It appears that one of the most influential centralised services is failing to meet its own standards which it recommends to its users for careful consideration. While the YouTube community either abides by the rules or is punished for not complying, the company gives itself a free pass when it does not follow its policy. This raises a big question as to its value to the community. Perhaps it is time to empower users and give them the right to enjoy transparent and decentralised video-hosting platforms.

With great influence comes great responsibility. It is a pity that a service used by more than 70% of US Internet users chooses to ignore that.