YouTube removes Black Lives Matter fundraising videos for violating platform's policy in move creators call 'deeply confusing'

Videos fundraising for the Black Lives Matter movement are being flagged and removed by YouTube. (Photo: YouTube/Zoe Amira)
Videos fundraising for the Black Lives Matter movement are being flagged and removed by YouTube. (Photo: YouTube/Zoe Amira)

Creators on YouTube are taking a stance in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and allowing viewers to make monetary donations to organizations fighting racial injustice without spending a cent out of pocket. Now, as YouTube has been flagging the videos and removing them because of alleged violations, creators are questioning the platform’s support.

YouTube, for its part, responded to the removal of videos fundraising for the Black Lives Matter movement with a blog post that explained the alleged violations of fake engagement and encouraging clicks or views.

The creative idea for fundraising on YouTube was spearheaded by Zoe Amira, a beauty guru on the platform with a current subscriber count of more than 79,300, when she uploaded the hour-long compilation video of art, spoken word, poetry and songs created by black men and women. The video, titled “How to financially help BLM with NO MONEY/leaving your house (invest in the future for FREE),” was tied to a promise that Amira would be donating all revenue generated by ads that appeared throughout the video to Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter–associated protestor bail funds. Since then, videos of the same nature have been uploaded by various creators onto YouTube, only to be removed by the platform, which marked the content as “inappropriate.”

Amira first took to her Twitter on May 29 to ask black creatives to share their work with her so that she could include it in a fundraising video that would generate donations for the Minnesota Freedom Fund in the wake of protests stemming from George Floyd’s death. She also opened the ask up to brands or businesses that would like to sponsor portions of the video for a good cause. Her goal, she wrote, was to have as much content as possible to make the video as long as possible to ultimately have the potential to generate more money.

Related: YouTubers Are Creating Monetized Videos to Help Protestors

While uploading the video, she explained that she ran into some copyright issues. But as soon as the video was live, she encouraged people to watch it and even explained how to ensure that each viewer was contributing to the cause.

Just one day later, on May 31, the YouTuber posted an update revealing that her account had been “flagged” as a result of the video. The video also became unavailable after being deemed “potentially mature.”

The video became viewable and monetized again shortly thereafter, but the back-and-forth continued as Amira went on to update her followers on Twitter. She even mentioned that many were complaining about ads in support of President Trump, although she had made attempts to block them because of the nature of her content. “Youtubers can’t choose what ads go on their videos but we can block specific ads only if we get the specific ad link,” she tweeted. “i don’t know why trump is targeting and trying to advertise on black lives matter videos, but i will NOT have it on my channel. nope nope nope.”

By June 2, Amira’s video had hit one million views, and by June 3, four million. She also started to post updates about the revenue that the video was generating for the sake of transparency.

While the video continued to gain exposure, views and ad revenue, however, it had actually been removed and replaced twice by YouTube. As people decided to create their own fundraising videos, they faced the same problem of having their videos removed, but with no effort by YouTube to replace them.

Amira’s video was eventually removed for good on June 10. She did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment, but explained on Twitter that although the money she had raised from ad revenue was returned to advertisers, YouTube pledged to donate the same amount to organizations of her choosing.

Various other videos of the same nature, including those that lived on omuriceu’s channel and the page of another creator named Cindy Marshall, have also all been deleted with a note from YouTube that they have “been removed for violating YouTube’s policy on spam, deceptive practices and scams.” These creators haven’t had the same response from YouTube as Amira.

Selena Trevino, a 24-year-old YouTube creator, tells Yahoo Life that after being made aware of the potential for her own fundraising video to be removed, she made sure that it didn’t violate any community guidelines prior to publishing it on June 7.

“I ensured, like I do with all of my videos, that the video was presented well with information and/or resources. Basically, I ensured that this wasn’t just a video only for donations/contributions, but for so much more: to elevate and support black artists, influencers and leaders,” Trevino shares via email. “My heart behind this was to support them by using my platform, while simultaneously raising funds, and ALSO providing resources in the description for people to share, to use and to distribute. I did not think, in any way, that my video would break any of the community guidelines.”

As of Thursday evening, her video had reached more than 40,000 views, which Trevino said “both excites me and makes me nervous because I wouldn’t want someone to report my video, or for YouTube to take it down.” Later on Thursday night, her video was removed from the platform.

“I appealed and submitted a form,” Trevino says, referring to YouTube powers-that-be. “They haven’t gotten back to me yet.”

YouTube, responding to the video removals by explaining the alleged violations of fake engagement and encouraging clicks or views, noted in its blog post: “While you can take any ad revenue you earn from organic traffic and donate it, some of these videos encourage people to repeatedly watch the video for ad views and/or repeatedly click on the ads in the video, which artificially drives up the video’s watch time and ad metrics — this is against YouTube’s Policies. We’re seeing this encouragement in video titles, descriptions and in the video content itself, none of which is allowed. If your video encourages this behavior, it will be removed from YouTube, you won’t be paid for the views and clicks, and advertisers will not be charged.”

A YouTube spokesperson further clarified to Yahoo Life that YouTube is still working with Amira on donating money from her video to an approved 503c nonprofit of her choosing. The specific amount of money that will be donated, however, hasn’t been disclosed, and any effort to match the potential revenue of other fundraising videos hasn’t been discussed.

Some videos that do remain, with profits going toward organizations fighting racial injustice, include those by Stephanie Soo, a YouTuber with more than 2.2 million subscribers who integrates true crime cases into videos of her eating from different cuisines.

Other creators continue to speak out about YouTube’s actions (or inactions) when it comes to supporting black creators and black content during this time. Roxy Striar, a content creator and host, expressed discontent with the platform when running into similar issues around generating ad revenue on various videos related to the Black Lives Matter movement, even those not explicitly made in an effort to fundraise.

“When I have white guests you pay me. When I have black guests, you don’t,” Striar tweeted alongside photos of the backend of her account. “Shade.”

Striar further explains to Yahoo Life, “YouTube is incentivizing creators to not talk about Black Lives Matter, because if they do, they cannot pay their rent. ... If you truly believe that Black Lives Matter, you will stop discouraging your content creators from talking about the movement.”

In response to much of the feedback, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced on Thursday a multi-year $100 million fund dedicated to amplifying and developing the voices of black creators and artists and their stories. This is set to include a livestream fundraising event produced by YouTube Originals (YTO) called “Bear Witness, Take Action” premiering Saturday.

“I’m sure they’re doing something to help support black creators on their platform, but I would say they can definitely do better, and they can do more,” Trevino says of YouTube’s efforts thus far. “I notice a lot of these smaller black creators have the most authentic content, and sometimes some of the best content, but they’re still relatively small compared to other successful YouTubers. I’d like to see more successful black and brown creators on the platform.”

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