The Youtubers' union just wants Google to give them the rulebook

Google has blinked in the ongoing attempt to organize Youtube creators in a new organization called Fairtube, under the umbrella of the powerful German trade union IG Metall.

After cordially ignoring the union -- which has German law on its side -- and its countdown clock for Youtube to come to the table, Google finally reached out to the organizers, with only eight hours to go. Then, at the last minute, the company changed the terms of the meeting, insisting that no actual Youtubers could be present -- only union officials.

The union's demands are pretty reasonable: they just want Youtube to explain what the rules are. That is, which topics will get your video demonetized or have its comments frozen, what words are you allowed or prohibited from saying, and so on. There is a rulebook -- leaks reveal that Youtube's content moderation makes reference to some kind of official policy -- but it's clearly not the same guidelines that Youtube provides to the creators who make the work that powers the site.

These creators say that they can work for weeks or months on something for their channels, only to have it demonetized, blocked, or locked for commenting for reasons that they struggle to comprehend. This is why so many Youtube videos end with exhortations to like or subscribe or comment -- Youtubers have folk-theories about what makes a video acceptable or unacceptable to the black box that moderates their creative labor.

It’s tempting (and easy) to paint Google and YouTube as worker-stomping monopolists, but not even disgruntled creators see them that way. "I’m simultaneously constantly frustrated with YouTube and in awe that it happens at all," D’Angelo declares. Sprave offers similar assurances that he bears the platform no bitterness, that these organizing attempts come from a place of love. D’Angelo says that he admired YouTube’s swift response to creator outcry about its new verification policy, and everyone said they understand that YouTube is not cynically sabotaging its own creators. They know that YouTube represents an engineering and social challenge of unprecedented complexity, and that advertisers are a hugely important stakeholder for not just YouTube, but also for Google and Alphabet.

Which is why it’s so disappointing that Google suddenly disinvited YouTubers to the FairTube meeting that never was, and that YouTubers Union members felt they had to vote to cancel the meeting rather than shoulder the snub. (YouTube maintains that the meeting is merely rescheduled, since another German trade union, ver.de, is still interested in meeting at a later date.) It may end up working against Google: Silberman did not come to play. He notes that in the European Union, YouTube’s failure to disclose how it categorizes videos and video creators may violate GDPR.

YouTubers Must Unionize, No Matter What Google Says [Emma Grey Ellis/Wired]