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YouTube CEO Promises ‘New Approach to Advertising’ Over Abusive Video Backlash

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki promised to crack down on bad actors uploading abusive videos to the Google-owned video sharing site in two blog posts published late Monday. Protecting both YouTube viewers as well as advertisers from exploitative content would require “a new approach to advertising on YouTube,” she said.

Wojcicki’s public statements come after a massive backlash against inappropriate videos targeting young viewers, and often featuring children in abusive situations, as well as comments from predators targeting young viewers on the platform.

About a month ago, reports first surfaced about bizarre and exploitative videos that made use of popular children’s characters and often abused tags in order to surface on YouTube’s Kids app and slip through age restrictions filters. Some of the videos highlighted also featured underage children in suggestive situations, and attracted comments from sexual predators.

YouTube responded by removing channels highlighted in reports, but advertisers nonetheless started to  withhold their budgets from the video service. On Monday, Wojcicki said that Google had plans to grow the team of people to address content policy violations to more than 10,000 next year.

She also touted YouTube’s success in taking down videos from violent extremists, saying that the service had removed 150,000 such videos since June alone. Machine learning was playing a key role in identifying and removing such content, Wojcicki said: “Since we started using machine learning to flag violent and extremist content in June, the technology has reviewed and flagged content that would have taken 180,000 people working 40 hours a week to assess.”

YouTube now wants to use these same technologies, as well as human reviews, to also clamp down on exploitative and otherwise inappropriate content, she said: “Because we have seen these positive results, we have begun training machine-learning technology across other challenging content areas, including child safety and hate speech.”

However, Wojcicki also argued that it wasn’t enough to just take down many more videos. Instead, she promised a more proactive review process to determine which channels would be eligible to carry advertising.

“We are planning to apply stricter criteria, conduct more manual curation, while also significantly ramping up our team of ad reviewers to ensure ads are only running where they should,” Wojcicki said. “This will also help vetted creators see more stability around their revenue. It’s important we get this right for both advertisers and creators, and over the next few weeks, we’ll be speaking with both to hone this approach.”

YouTube has faced backlash over the distribution and monetization of inappropriate content multiple times this year, something that Wojcicki acknowledged by saying that it had been “a difficult year.” However, company executives have in the past argued that backlash from advertisers over brand safety had not had a significant impact in Google’s bottom line. It will be interesting to see whether a more proactive review of all advertisers will change that.

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