YouTube's new profanity rules are punishing creators retroactively, and they're furious

An image of SungWon Cho holding a piece of paper in front of his face reading "YouTube".
(Image credit: ProZD / SungWon Cho)
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YouTube's been cracking down on swearing lately, in its enduring quest to give itself the same general vibe as dinner at your grandparents' house, and hardly anyone is happy about it. Rules from November (opens in new tab) (via Kotaku (opens in new tab)) last year are demonetising videos that use profanity in their title, thumbnail, their first seven seconds, or "consistently throughout the video," whatever that means. It's impacting streamers who play mature games and, incomprehensibly, even affecting videos that were uploaded before the rules were announced.

Making things even dicier for content creators on the platform, YouTube has now decided to treat all curse words as basically equivalent. Whether you're howling the F-word or muttering a humble 'ass,' YouTube promises to come down on you regardless. On the plus side, 'hell' and 'damn' are no longer considered profanity according to YouTube's arcane laws.

Understandably, more than a few YouTubers are up in arms about this sudden and poorly-communicated threat to their livelihoods. A video on the subject from creator Daniel Condren (opens in new tab) on his RTGame channel details a saga in which a bunch of old videos were abruptly demonetised by YouTube. When his appeals were rejected, YouTube support only told him "As you are aware, all content available on the platform must follow these guidelines, regardless of when they were uploaded or when the policy was implemented". He was then strongly advised to "continue carefully observing" YouTube's various guidelines as he made videos in the future.

That Condren—who has nearly 3 million subscribers—had to fall down a rabbit hole of appeals and demonetisations before he got an answer directly from a YouTube rep is mind-boggling. Evidently, YouTube's communication around the new rules has been less than stellar, and Condren is far from the only one with complaints. On his ProZD channel, voice actor and YouTuber SungWon Cho ran a kind of informal experiment. In a video provocatively titled "youtube is run by fools (opens in new tab)," Cho explained the new guidelines while avoiding cursing for the first 15-or-so seconds of his video, before proceeding to curse four times later on.

Despite the fact that Cho's profanity occurred after the first 15 seconds of his video and made up a small percentage of the overall script, he says the video was demonetised after two days (opens in new tab). Much like when a MegaMan documentary found itself bizarrely restricted (opens in new tab) for violating YouTube's "sex and nudity" policy, it's hard not to get the feeling that the platform's left hand doesn't know what its right hand is doing, leaving enforcement up to the whims of individual moderators and making it a nightmare for creators to figure out what they can and can't do.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.