Some of YouTube's biggest stars say their work is hurting their health



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If you are a creator on YouTube, you live and die by the algorithm. It's the invisible technology that recommends videos on the trending page or in search results or suggestions all across the platform. No one but YouTube knows exactly how algorithmic decides are what to promote and what not to promote. The controversial process has promoted fake news and sensational or harmful content. And creators say it's burning them out.

Lilly Singh, a hugely popular YouTube comedian, just now she's taking a break from the platform. "The thing about YouTube is, in all of its glory, it is a machine," she said in a recent video. "It makes creators have content out consistently, even at the cost of our life and our mental health and our happiness, because if you don't, then you become irrelevant. " Singh is one of a string of creators leaving YouTube.

Katherine Lo, a visiting researcher in the informatics at the University of California, Irvine, studies harassment and mental health in online communities. Molly Wood talked with her about how the YouTube algorithm affects business for creators. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Katherine Lo: So, if you can look at YouTube creator's profile, you can see your videos in chronological order, and you might notice you have 2 million, 3 million, 2 million [views]. And then, suddenly, it will be like 900,000 and you'll be like, "What happened with that video?" And sometimes YouTubers can figure out how to play with their analytics or what is different about that video. But much of the time, they don't have a definitive answer.

Molly Wood: I guess we should get really explicit here. Your video goes from 2 million to 900,000 [views] you don't necessarily know why. But what do you know is that when you got 900,000, you get less money, less ad revenue.

Lo: Yes And you become less appealing to advertisers for some of the time sponsorships if you can't guarantee numbers. You are the balancing all of these very precarious factors. And you have these other elements – we call it emotional or affective labor – where You have to change the way they act. And that doesn't seem like work or labor, but it's a kind of fatigue the same way physical labor can.

Wood: How serious is this problem, this sort of mental health problem? I have an 11-year-old who is dying to be a YouTube star, and I sort of feel about YouTube the same way I feel about setting him a try out for football, where I'm just, like, "I really don ' want you to do this. I don't think it's good for you. "

Lo: Yeah, I don't think that YouTube is good for YouTubers much of the time. And I think that it's also important from the standpoint of what's happening to the viewers because if someone gets a lot more erratic, if they can't be thoughtful in their content because they're having to meet the demands of posting frequently and maybe with not the appropriate support, then their content changes a lot. And I think it's not a good influence on the people who are watching. So I think that it doesn't affect the creators, but it affects the entire culture around YouTube.


We reached out to YouTube about creator burnout. It is said that it wants to make videos "healthy, sustainable way" and emphasizes that it doesn't prioritize creators who post videos more often than others. The company has also posted videos on avoiding burnout on its Creators channel.

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Follow Molly Wood at @mollywood.

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