On March 16, YouTube released a statement warning its creator community that video removals may increase during the coronavirus pandemic. The popular video-sharing platform said that its system currently relies on a combination of people and technology, noting that machine learning is being leveraged to detect potentially harmful content. Once these algorithms find “harmful content,” human reviewers are called upon for assessment. 

The company also stated that new measures are being taken during the COVID-19 crisis to rely more on technology to help with some of the work normally performed by human reviewers. The blog post states:

“Automated systems will start removing some content without human review, so we can continue to act quickly to remove violative content and protect our ecosystem, while we have workplace protections in place.”

That being said, YouTube’s increased use of machine learning algorithms may be to blame for the recent deletion of crypto-related videos. 

Popular crypto YouTuber Lark Davis, also known as The Crypto Lark, told Cointelegraph that he has had 11 videos removed from his YouTube channel during the month of April. His most recent video, which features an interview with Andreas Antonopoulos, was suddenly taken down from YouTube on Sunday. He said:

“It took YouTube 3-4 hours to put back the interview I did with Andreas Antonopoulos. Videos usually are removed for violating community guidelines, but content creators are never told why their videos are taken down. I don’t violate the guidelines YouTube has in place, I just talk about crypto-related news. But there is clearly something in my videos that triggers the machine learning algorithms to remove the content.”

Davis further mentioned that while his interview with Antonopoulos took only a matter of hours to be restored, some of his crypto videos have taken a full day to come back. Indeed, this could be due to the new COVID-19-related algorithms that YouTube is currently relying on.

The Verge reporter Casey Newton recently conducted an interview with YouTube’s head of product, Neal Mohan. Mohan revealed that because of the coronavirus pandemic, YouTube has had to rely on machines and machine learning algorithms to judge appropriate content. Yet without human intervention, there have been many more appeals from content creators complaining that content has been removed. Mohan further mentioned:

“Because there’s a lot of action taken by these machines, sometimes those appeals are impacted in terms of our response time. But generally speaking, we’ve been able to manage this.”

Academia Blockchain’s YouTube channel, which has 8.6 thousand subscribers, has also recently been impacted by YouTube’s “crypto ban.” Ricardo Florentino Cruz, the community manager and administrator at Academia Blockchain, told Cointelegraph that the channel promotes blockchain education in Spanish with the goal of providing informative tutorials. 

He said Academia Blockchain’s channel had a video suddenly removed earlier in April. “Following our first video ban, YouTube had been sending warnings about our other videos, especially those related to COVID19 news,” Florentino noted.

Anne Ahola Ward, a technologist, IBM futurist and author for O’Reilly, told Cointelegraph that Google is famously secretive about its algorithms, noting that it's impossible to pinpoint exactly what's going on in terms of words that may trigger video deletions. She said, “If Google's algorithm has somehow become convinced that blockchain is related to conspiracy theories' than it is much more likely to get flagged." Interestingly enough, Davis pointed out that YouTube’s ban on crypto-related content has been happening since December, adding:

“Many crypto YouTubers have been experiencing difficulties with the platform since last Christmas. There was a recent update to YouTube’s machine learning algorithm around that time and there was another update made in March relating to COVID19. The algorithm goes after specific words, but content creators are not aware of what words trigger ‘harmful content.’” 

YouTube remains silent — now what? 

Cointelegraph reached out to YouTube via email and through Twitter on Tuesday for comment, but the company has yet to respond. Due to the lack of communication, content creators are left only to hypothesize why YouTube has been deleting crypto-related videos. 

Davis explained that many crypto YouTube influencers have begun spinning the narrative that YouTube is enforcing the censorship of crypto channels. However, he doesn’t believe this is the case:

“I do know that YouTube is trying to respond to fake scam giveaways. Unfortunately, when you search for things like BTC, ETH or XRP, there are a number of live scam giveaways that appear, which YouTube is trying to crack down on. Overall though, I think the YouTube algorithm is the master of the platform and it dictates a content creator's fate.”

While the reason for deleting crypto content is still a mystery, Ripple Labs and its CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, filed a lawsuit against YouTube on April 21. According to Ripple, the lawsuit was filed as an attempt to stop XRP scammers and impersonators on the platform.

Lea Thompson, also known as Girl Gone Crypto on YouTube, told Cointelegraph that while there has been much speculation as to why YouTube has been cracking down on crypto-related content, she has heard that it may be related to referral links:

“I’ve heard that posting the same referral links in each video description causes YouTube to flag videos as spam. Honestly though, we have heard very little about why crypto content is being deleted. But if large players like Tone Vays and The Crypto Lark can be censored, then no one is safe.”

Not only are crypto YouTubers at risk of having their content suddenly deleted, but YouTube also has the capability to interfere with live streaming content on its platform. Erick Pinos, the president of the Blockchain Education Network — a six-year-old network consisting of blockchain clubs, students, professors and alumni from universities around the world — told Cointelegraph that YouTube recently cut one of the network’s live tutorials midstream:

“These past two months we started a BEN Speaker Series where we've live streamed interviews with popular blockchain projects. On Apr 3rd, our livestream was cut mid-stream and we were sent a notice by YouTube while we were still on the Zoom call with the interviewee.”

According to Pinos, the notice did not say the BEN’s account was banned, but it has since stopped the organization from using YouTube to livestream. “It did make us stop live streaming because we didn't want to get flagged again,” he said.

Decentralized alternatives

Both Davis and Florentino explained that they have channels on LBRY, a community-managed, blockchain-based content sharing platform. Davis explained that he has been sharing videos on LBRY for a while. However, he pointed out that most decentralized media platforms are not up to par with YouTube’s standards:

“DTube has decent views, but the issue with these platforms is that most lack in bandwidth compared with YouTube. For example, I get failure rates when uploading videos to these platforms.”

Additionally, Pinos mentioned that the BEN had been using Mailchimp to send out regular newsletters, but explained that the organization’s account has been banned from the platform twice: once in 2017, during the initial coin offering craze, and again earlier in April:

“In January we created a new Mailchimp account. We were good for a few newsletters, but on April 8 Mailchimp stopped our weekly newsletter from sending and sent us a notice that they had banned our account. I assume we fell under ‘Prohibited Content’ in their Acceptable Use Policy.”

Following this, Pinos explained that the BEN has returned to using SendGrid, an email marketing software that has never posed any issues. He further noted that the BEN has been posting content on decentralized platforms like Hive and 3Speak, but continues to leverage YouTube.