YouTube News: BIG Changes to the Verification Program

I really tried to give myself time to cool off and cool down before I began writing - but we’ve got to talk about this.

I woke up this morning, as did many other creators, to an email in my inbox (well, two, since I had two channels that will be affected) from YouTube. My gut reaction was to reach for the “Mark as Spam” button and ignore it, as I’m constantly flooded with fake phishing emails from “YouTube” - but I gave it a second look. It was legit.

The email states that YouTube’s verification program (what gives channels the little checkmark next to their name) is being updated. According to YouTube, their research has indicated that “viewers often associated the checkmark with an endorsement of content, not identity.” So to fight this confusion, they’re changing how the verification mark looks to help distinguish official channels of creators, celebrities, musicians, or brands.

Here’s what the new verification might look like for a normal YouTube channel:

Here’s what it might look for a musician:

Ironically, by posting this as a gif without explanation, it remains unclear if the main icons (the checkmark or music symbol) are remaining, or if the channel name getting the grey background is supposed to be the final result. I really can’t imagine how a slightly different colored background behind the text alone is going to convey a better sense of verification than a pretty universally-recognized checkmark would.

While I’m already failing the urge to be skeptical, I’m really not sure how they think that viewers on YouTube specifically are so “confused” by what verification checkmarks mean, when they function identically across virtually all social media websites in the modern era. There’s really no confusing that, and I do not buy this explanation for one second.

It’s worth noting that this affects all channels, whether you’ve been verified for years (me) or just got your checkmark yesterday.

This is another example of YouTube having made a change around 2014-2016 that a significant amount of creators liked (myself included) that while having the potential for abuse, was a fairly well-accepted change, and are now reverting to how they used to operate. Going back five or so years ago, verification had similarly vague and nonsensical requirements as the new requirements that YouTube is introducing next month. “Authenticity and Prominence.” This means nothing, in tangible terms. Back then, no one knew how to get verified, what the actual requirements were, and you either had to be a major corporation or celebrity to get verified, or know the right people. 

For the past three to four years, channels simply needed to have 100,000 subscribers to get verified and were able to apply for verification while ordering their Silver Play Button. There was a small couple-year period during the MCN boom where MCNs could verify virtually any channel as long as they were willing to bring that channel into the Managed CMS for the duration of the verification process. 

(“Managed CMS” is the more “premium” collection of channels a network could manage, wherein the MCN was directly responsible for any strikes or violations that channel makes, but can provide more direct support and control over the channel. Channels in Managed CMS were also somewhat protected from automatic Content ID claims, and in some cases - at least back in the earlier Machinima days - were protected from automatically being terminated when receiving 3 strikes on the channel.)

This was widely-exploited, especially through the chain of small MCNs and “sub-networks” that spread like wildfire during this time, such as the one I worked for, Freedom!. Network owners were selling Managed CMS slots for actual money, and handing out checkmarks like candy. This is, unfortunately, the “potential for abuse” that definitely got abused. If you’ve seen random 200 subscriber channels that don’t seem to belong to any major brand or company but are still verified, they probably got verified through one such network. (Not necessarily through the nefarious ways, just by working for the MCN or knowing the right people.)

Admittedly, this is when I got my channel verified. In fact, I got two channels verified: My main channel, EposVox, which probably had around 50,000 subscribers at the time, and my second channel, renamed to EposVox Gaming, which only had around 10,000 subscribers (but was my “main channel” from 2010 to 2012 and I wanted to keep it safe). I worked for a MCN that I knew was willing to verify channels that didn’t have 100,000 subscribers, I saw that the window for this was closing fast and decided to go for it. Technically, I may have been part of the problem. Though my channel is now approaching 200,000 subscribers, I got it below that 100,000 requirement.

But I did it for the very reasons that YouTube thinks the verification program should exist. I had copycat channels using fake versions of my name, stealing my content, posting fake giveaway links in the comments of the Freedom! videos and through YouTube messages (I’ll talk about this more in a moment). I needed to protect my channel’s identify and make it clear which was “my real channel” as well as YouTube’s tools would allow me.

This is something I still struggle with. I’ve filed hundreds upon hundreds of copyright takedowns on re-uploaded videos - that has only accelerated as YouTube rolled out the new automatic copyright detection tool in the Creator Studio Beta. And now I’m being told this is being taken away from me because I don’t meet some vague criteria.

In fact, I’m also fairly certain that YouTube stopped rolling out its new Messaging feature, and then recently shut it down, because they couldn’t stop the flood of imposter spam, like these messages being sent through it. 

Much like how YouTube has been experimenting with making creators manually describe their video and why it qualifies for monetization - as was the case in the AdSense-only, pre-MCN days - YouTube is now taking away any tangible requirement listing for verification, in place of vagueness and “we’ll just give it to you when you qualify” language.

Here’s their exact wording:

If you’re reading through this and feel like I’m just overreacting - well, you might not be wrong. YouTube is my career, and (while I may mock it) I am not immune to the emotional response of negative changes that impact me. But what really set me off was seeing replies from other creators, such as Barnacules: 

His channel has nearly 1 million subscribers, he owns his own trademark, is registered as an LLC, and is verified on at least one other social media platform (probably more).

While YouTube does provide an Appeal Form (in the place of the original verification application), we know they’re going to be swarmed with appeals and unable to keep up. This is a recurring problem with YouTube and has been since the beginning: logistics. In fact, I’m fairly certain that’s why they had original changed the verification requirements to be 100,000 subscribers instead of the original in-tangible ones - as they couldn’t keep up with the number of inquiries and applications for verification, so they set a hard requirement and just gave it to just about everyone who met that subscriber count. 

It would appear they’ve resorted to their ever-reliable (that was sarcasm) automated systems to now determine eligibility, which already is not going well. This is the other part of my concern: outside of the appeal process, if creators have no way of applying for or requesting verification, and the system is already making mistakes, we’re going to see a YouTube where only major brands, corporations, and celebrities are verified and us actual “creators” are left in the dust. This is scary.

I do get where YouTube is coming from for some of the intent behind this change. One of the points they actually acknowledge, is that the verification system has been inconsistent across every feature of YouTube. Looking at it now, I see at least three or four different forms of the verification badge on desktop and mobile:

Desktop, Community Tab on my Channel:

Desktop, Comment replies, Creator Studio Beta:

Mobile, comment replies, YT Studio app:

Desktop, Live stream chat:

Desktop, my channel page:

And my channel page on mobile doesn’t even show it at all!

(Neither does Google’s, by the way.)

And for fun, here’s what it looked like on my channel page in late 2016:

So yes, the current experience of a viewer seeing verified checkmarks is inconsistent, to say the least. I don’t think that really gives merit to the idea that viewers don’t know what the checkmark means, simply that they’re confused why they see it in some places and not others. In fact, since tweeting about this email, I’ve had multiple people tell me “they’ve already unverified PewDiePie!” because they’re checking on mobile and not seeing it.

But the solution to that is to fix the problem, not break everything else.

Here’s what the email should look like if YouTube decides you meet “the requirements”:

(I’ve been sent this by multiple channels around my exact same channel size and with no other verification on other social media platforms, too.)

We’re already seeing inconsistency in who this is impacting. YouTube says they want more consistency and to make it less confusing for viewers, but from day one, from the moment this email system selected people to contact, the opposite has happened. 

Obviously, creators can appeal their decision. But that doesn’t guarantee they will ever receive a response nor have the decision changed. The impact even just the potentially-automated email being sent out has on the community is problematic enough. YouTube regularly struggles with PR and then haphazardly sends things out like this, somehow expecting it to be fine. 

And I get it, they have to make changes and creators won’t always like them - even if the changes are for the greater good. I’ve defended YouTube and played devil’s advocate for them year after year because I know this. I’m also a firm believer in Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” A bit harsh worded that way, but “YoUtUbE hAtEs SmAlL cReAtOrS” is rarely the accurate explanation for any changes they make. And while even now, I get the intent behind this change, they make it real hard to defend it.

A problem with this change has to do with the retroactive approach. Removal of verification badges happens to all channels that the seemingly-automated system has decided are not worthy of it, not just new channels seeking verification. Much like with the massive shifts to the YouTube Partner Program requirements, this means that both channels like my own that have been verified for years, as well as channels who literally just got verified this month - who really felt like their hard work was paying off, got a silver plaque and a nice checkmark by their name - are having that yanked away. 

And we have no way of knowing how this is decided. YouTube has a habit of approaching controversial changes with the “if they know why, their response will subside” strategy. Even the email I received states “We realize this might be disappointing, but we believe these updates will…” They know it’s disappointing, but as long as we know why we’ll be okay with it right? We still don’t know the how. The “bot” that decided this is clearly already making mistakes. It’s either not finding the associated other social media platforms for bigger channels, such as in the case of Barnacules, or somehow deciding that those aren’t good enough. The bot certainly has no way of considering bigger context - such as myself struggling with stolen content and copycat channels, even if there might not be ten clone channels sitting up right now (because I’m very proactive in taking them down), that it’s still a problem, which is why I got verified. And that while yes, my tiny gaming channel still has less than 10,000 subscribers now, it’s still a secondary posting grounds for me that I plan on utilizing and I need it to stay verified and validated as still being me.

I don’t know what the actual solution is (aside from more hands-on human moderation, as always), as I know there’s a metric truck-ton of illegitimately-verified channels out there that probably need their checkmarks removed. But this ain’t it, chief.

“But it’s just a checkmark, it doesn’t mean you’re being removed from the YouTube Partner Program or anything, right?”

Yes and no. It’s not “just a checkmark.” On one level, it’s very symbolic of the work that’s gone into a channel and the reward YouTube gives for establishing yourself. On that side, it’s as if YouTube cancelled the Play Button awards and started confiscating them back from creators, or just taking away subscribers. This impacts how viewers perceive your channel both as a success and in a sense of authority, as well as brands and potential partners. As with Twitter or any other social media platform, the checkmark demands more attention and response, and as someone who operates a channel as a business, this sucks.

But also, it can have subtle, but significant, impacts on YouTube performance, as well. YouTube will never admit to this (not necessarily out of hiding it, but they never give tangible identifiers that their “algorithms” use so that the system won’t be gamed or cheated) but especially as the platform moves towards focusing more on “authority” as a weighing factor in search results and recommendations, verification badges play a role in that.

Not only is it a status symbol on YouTube, but it’s one that helps establish that status on other platforms. Having verification on one site makes it easier to get it elsewhere. I’ve gotten verified on a few sites based on my verification (and viewership) on YouTube. Theoretically I’m at a point where I could get verified on Twitter with followers combined with my YouTube verification - but Twitter closed their verification applications and I’ve yet to find the right person who can put me in contact with the right people to do it. (The whole “who you know” nonsense.) But with my YouTube verification going away, that puts Twitter (or Instagram, etc.) verification further out of reach, thus making it harder to qualify for YouTube’s own new rules. It’s a cycle that locks certain people out.

There has yet to be a Creator Insider video go up on this subject (at the time of writing) - but given that they have not made any videos about the massive changes coming to kids content either, I won’t keep my hopes up. 

Again, I try my best to avoid the constant toxic “YouTube Is Over Party” nonsense, and I don’t think “YouTube is dying” - but there are decisions that deserve criticism and context. 

The verification program changes will go into effect in late October and creators have the ability to appeal the decision sent to their email by October 17, 2019 here.

That’s it from me. I’m going to go fill out my appeal, watch as I get an auto-response denying it (cynical prediction) and move on with my life, I guess.  

Were you affected by this? How do you feel about the change? Let me know!

 

**UPDATE!
In one of the quickest pivots in YouTube communication history, Susan Wojcicki has already released a new
announcement stating that YouTube channels which currently have verification will now be able to keep their verified checkmark without appeal. 
Not only that, but YouTube will also keep the verification application open for channels with 100,000 or more subscribers, while integrating the previously-stated verification requirements into the new process.
Lastly, the new look for the verification badge will be postponed until next year.

You can read more about the original decision and subsequent mind-changing here. You can read more about the eligibility requirements for verification here.

This is obviously a big win for creators, and I could not be happier, etc. I felt pretty confident in my appeal for my main channel - though for other creators, proving you have “reputable publications which have written about you” (a requirement for the appeal) might prove difficult - but assumed my side channel would be rejected.
While I don’t mean to move goalposts or anything, and I will remain optimistic about this, it does raise some questions regarding how quickly they turned this around. What other factors motivated this decision? How strong were those motivations if they were able to so quickly backpedal? Did they assume there would be backlash and thus already have this backup plan ready?
Everything about this was uncharacteristic of YouTube and a little… weird to say the least. But hey, creators of all sizes can breathe a sigh of relief on the matter for now.

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EposVox
Tech educator, '90s and '00s Nostalgia Nerd, Pixel and Framerate Junkie. 12 years on YouTube is a loooong time.

https://youtube.com/eposvox
https://youtube.com/eposvoxgaming
https://twitch.tv/eposvox

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