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“YouTube Heroes” Program Rewards Users for Flagging “Inappropriate” Videos; What Could Go Wrong?

Moderating an online community is hard. Add video copyright troubles to that, and you’ve got YouTube’s predicament as the overwhelmingly popular online video hosting service tries to become more like a social network. They’ve tried methods to alleviate abusive comments in the past (with little success), and now they’re introducing a “YouTube Heroes” program to get assistance from users in flagging “inappropriate” videos.

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If that immediately calls to mind an image of a YouTube where—in addition to all the reports of unfair copyright flagging by bots—users flag videos as inappropriate over persona opinions and biases, well, you’re not alone. The signup page asks only that you’re “of the legal age” in your jurisdiction in order to sign up for the service with your account. Under the “rules” section of the YouTube Heroes announcement, they warn that abusing the system will result in penalization and/or removal from the program, but five minutes in a YouTube comment section is enough to give the impression that this could cause more trouble than it solves.

The comments beneath the YouTube Heroes announcement video have been disabled (and it’s also got a disproportionate number of dislikes). Now, when anything changes on the Internet, there’s an inevitable outcry, however misguided (or not) in any given case, and I don’t blame YouTube for not wanting overreaction on display below the video. They might want to consider, though, that some of those same people will be signing up for the Heroes program, and just having a few rules in place to prevent abuse of the system doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Luckily, flagged videos are reviewed by YouTube staff before any action is taken, according to the program details, which is how the existing flagging system already works. However, the Heroes program promises the reward of points and perks in exchange for video flagging (as well as answering other users’ questions and contributing to subtitles), which is motivation for extra flagging. The more flagging that comes in, the harder moderation gets, and the more chance there is that unwarranted flags will be taken seriously. YouTube’s already run into trouble with what kind of content is deemed appropriate. One of the “rewards” for gaining points is also a “mass flagging” ability, which sounds like a headache for moderators, to say the least.

All of this could just blow over entirely, but even in that event, it’s still tough to see what YouTube and its users gain from encouraging more flagging of video content. If a video is bothering users, they can already flag it. If no one’s objecting to a video, will extra motivation to flag really help anyone?

(via YouTube, image via screengrab)

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct <em>Geekosystem</em> (RIP), and then at <em>The Mary Sue</em> starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at <em>Smash Bros.</em>

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