YouTube continues to make headlines for objectionable content and misinformation hosted on the world’s biggest video platform. And it’s been criticized for not doing enough to combat the problems.
Neal Mohan, YouTube’s chief product officer, is responsible for all of the service’s products, which reach more than 2 billion users each month. This week, he’s heading to the 10th annual VidCon creator/fan confab in the U.S., where the exec is set to deliver a keynote focused on YouTube’s efforts to empower creators with new ways to help them build communities and ultimately make money.
A big part of that mission, Mohan said, is to refine and enforce policies that keep the bad stuff off YouTube — so that the good stuff can thrive.
“What underpins everything [about YouTube’s mission to support creators] is our responsibility as a global platform, to make sure our platform is safe for everyone,” he said in an interview with Variety.
Mohan continued, “The way I really think about that is, it’s a continual effort to remove — as quickly as possible — any content that violates our guidelines, raising up reliable sources, and reducing the impressions of borderline content which maybe we shouldn’t be recommending as much.”
YouTube has been focused since its inception on “creating opportunities for creators,” Mohan claimed. The platform has introduced new products to help creators grow their audiences, such as YouTube Stories (short, mobile-only videos that expire after seven days), scheduled video premieres, and virtual-reality features. To scale those audiences into businesses, YouTube has been providing new monetization tools, including the introduction last year of Channel Memberships and a way for channel owners to sell merchandise.
And new this year, YouTube plans to roll out programs and tools for creators to support and raise money for causes. “YouTubers have shared that they want to use YouTube to generate funds and contribute resources for things that are important to them,” Mohan said. “My job as chief product officer is to find ways to make that simpler and easier.”
In addition to Mohan’s Thursday keynote at VidCon, YouTube will stage other events at the July 10-13 convention in Anaheim. It’s hosting screenings of and cast panels for two YouTube originals — season 4 of murder-mystery competition series “Escape the Night” with Joey Graceffa and comedy “Liza On Demand” season 2 starring Liza Koshy. At VidCon, YouTube also is hosting meetups for diverse creators, including Latino, Asian, black, and LGBTQ creators.
On July 11, it’s reprising YouTube OnStage, a live entertainment showcase in its third year, headlined by Meghan Trainor (who recently passed 10 million subscribers on her YouTube channel) along with performances from others including comedy duo Rhett & Link of “Good Mythical Morning”; “America’s Got Talent” finalist Sofie Dossi; and DJ Earworm.
“The core of the event is kind of like the YouTube platform coming to life,” said Mohan. “I see fans fly in from around the world to see their favorite creators for a few minutes.”
But life on YouTube isn’t a nonstop party. Alongside its creator-centered initiatives, YouTube has spent considerable time trying to clean up the platform.
Last month, it added a way for users to remove suggestions from channels they don’t want to watch. It also specifically banned videos that promote the idea that one group is superior to others, including neo-Nazi content, and said it will widen efforts to limit recommendations of “borderline content and harmful misinformation” outside the U.S. In addition, it has taken steps to reduce the risk children will be targeted by predators on the service, including banning young kids from live-streaming without adult supervision and blocking the ability to leave comments on nearly all videos with minors.
“We are continuously working on our community guidelines,” Mohan said. He maintained that changes YouTube has put in place have involved “months of work” including consulting with third parties across the world.
At Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proposed a plan for users to appeal content decisions through an independent body. The Facebook Oversight Board would be comprised of 40 outside participants to make “decisions would be transparent and binding” — a kind of Supreme Court to rule on individual cases when questions come up about what should stay and what should get removed.
Could that work for YouTube? Mohan said the Google-owned video platform remains focused on establishing a workable set of community guidelines with clear and efficient enforcement. “We have always worked with third parties and external organizations,” he said. “You need a combination of incredibly well-trained raters, as well as technology.”
Meanwhile, Mohan declined to comment on a report last month in the Wall Street Journal last month that Google execs were debating the idea of moving all videos for children to the separate YouTube Kids app. The FTC is said to be investigating YouTube for possible violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits collecting data on kids 13 and under. YouTube hasn’t denied the WSJ story; a rep said in a statement: “We consider lots of ideas for improving YouTube and some remain just that — ideas. Others, we develop and launch, like our restrictions to minors live streaming or updated hate speech policy.”
Google tapped Mohan to head YouTube’s product and design in 2015. Previously, he was SVP of display and video ads at Google, after joining the internet giant in 2008 with Google’s $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick.
As for what YouTube’s biggest business challenges are at this point, Mohan stayed on message — citing the need to “let our creators grow in every sense of the term.”
“Whether you call it a challenge or opportunity, the conversation always goes back to: What is the magic of YouTube?” he said. “It’s building these awesome opportunities for the new creative economy. These creators are almost new companies in some sense.”