YouTube promises more 'manual curation' to tackle brand safety crisis

Google has revealed a plan to tackle YouTube's ongoing brand safety crisis, which has seen advertisers boycott the video platform on two occasions this year.

Susan Wojcicki: YouTube chief executive
Susan Wojcicki: YouTube chief executive

The Google-owned video platform started the year under fire from advertisers and agencies following reports by The Times claiming that ads were appearing next to videos promoting terrorism and other extremist content.

Then, last month, The Times followed it up with a front-page story claiming that YouTube ads are funding "paedophilic habits". The article was published the morning after YouTube’s annual Brandcast event, where Google’s UK managing director Ronan Harris announced that predatory commenters would be turned over to the police.

Despite previous efforts to reassure brands, some analysts are now warning that YouTube faces a "potential News of the World" moment, in reference to the mass exodus by advertisers which forced the newspaper’s closure in 2011.

In a blog post, YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki has announced a "comprehensive action plan" which the company hopes will enable it to tackle the issue of "problematic content" being uploaded to the platform.

YouTube plans to recruit additional content monitors, bringing the total number of people working in brand safety enforcement teams to over 10,000. The company claims that, since June, its teams have manually reviewed over two million videos for "violent extremist content".

It is also stepping up its use of machine learning to block content which violates its guidelines, and said such algorithms have identified and removed over 150,000 videos featuring violent extremism over the past six months.  

To win back advertisers, YouTube is promising to beef up its ad reviewer team and to implement greater levels of "manual curation" to ensure brand content is not displayed alongside extremist videos.

It has also pledged to provide regular reports, to provide more data about the flags it receives and the actions it takes to remove videos and comments.

"We are taking these actions because it’s the right thing to do [...] As the challenges to our platform will evolve and change, our enforcement methods must and will evolve to respond to them," Wojcicki said.

"But no matter what challenges emerge, our commitment to combat them will be sustained and unwavering. We will take the steps necessary to protect our community and ensure that YouTube continues to be a place where creators, advertisers, and viewers can thrive."

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