Youtube allows people -- some of them not very nice -- to earn incredible livings by performing stunts, playing videogames, creating sketches, anything that attracts an audience.
But these superstars labor in a confusing and arbitrary workplace, governed by Youtube's secret and ever-shifting algorithm, which can downrank them to obscurity and penury in an instant, or "demonetize" their channels, or punish them in other ways that are neither predictable nor even identifiable (it's often impossible to say whether a downtick in audience or earnings is "organic" or some algorithmic punishment).
These largely young people chase algorithmic approval with longer and longer hours, superstitious rituals and practices, and other desperate moves, all the while being jeered at and demonized by Youtube's notoriously cruel comment sections.
It's not surprising, then, that so many of them have reached a breaking point, walking away from their channels, declaring themselves to be on the verge of mental exhaustion. It's the next stage in the evolution of online media, the crises that first manifested with anxious bloggers being downranked by Google search, then podcasters suffering the invisible forces that shuffled the Itunes podcast rankings, and now Youtube.
YouTubers make almost all of their money from AdSense on YouTube, and projects or merchandise related to YouTube. This creates a pressure to upload a video every single day; to see consistent reach and maintain their positions as top creators among a sea of growing competition, creators have to effectively game the system.
This is where the algorithm grade comes in. The algorithm grade is the best working theory YouTubers work under when it comes to ensuring their videos are seen by as many people as possible. There are a bunch of little tricks that make up the algorithm grade (videos should be longer than 10 minutes, for example), but one of the most important details is frequency. It is strongly believed that YouTube accounts with more than 10,000 subscribers should post daily because YouTube’s algorithm favors frequency and engagement.
So people upload, and upload, and upload, and upload, building a bigger fanbase and working non stop. And then the consequences of that hustle hit them like a ton of bricks.
“Relevancy” is the word that keeps almost every YouTuber on the tip of their toes, but it’s not the only source of strain. There are also growing demonetization concerns running rampant throughout the community. Posting infrequently means a creator’s videos won’t be recommended. Videos that aren’t recommended aren’t as heavily watched. The last problem a creator wants to worry about is their videos not appearing or being shared because of frequency issues when already trying to skirt around YouTube’s growing advertising restrictions.
YouTube’s top creators are burning out and breaking down en masse [Julia Alexander/Polygon]