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YouTube needs to spend 2021 getting its shit together around moderation, music & more

Youtube Watching Video
Youtube Watching Video (Image credit: Alex Dobie / Android Central)

As someone who loves YouTube, watches a non-healthy amount of YouTube, and even willingly uses YouTube Music as her primary music service, I cannot stay silent any longer: YouTube needs to get off the couch and get things done.

YouTube has a laundry list of problems and broken features as long as my arm that needs fixing, and that's on top of the FUBAR situation that is YouTube moderation and monetization policy — or more specifically, demonetization policy. 2020 was a huge year for misinformation on media platforms from Twitter to YouTube and beyond, and while Twitter and a few other media platforms have at least earnestly tried to fight misinformation on their platforms, YouTube's approach has been a lot like Facebook's: it says its taking action, but it's barely scratching the surface of what's needed.

That's why YouTube's 2021 resolution needs to be to get its shit together and stop resting on its laurels as the largest video platform on the planet.

Moderation, monetization, and the need for a more moral AI in YouTube

YouTube Axon 10 Pro

Source: Jason England / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jason England / Android Central)

2020 gave us a start-to-finish fiasco of a presidential election, a pandemic whose response has been stymied by misinformation and outright conspiracies, and continued attacks on marginalized communities by extremists emboldened and radicalized on websites like — you guessed it — YouTube. This is a major problem not just for YouTube but for society as a whole.

Too little, too late is YouTube's modus operandi so far.

For example, let's take the election: YouTube tried to steer users towards official coverage of the election around November 3, but for weeks and weeks after the election, YouTube refused to pull videos spreading falsehoods and outright conspiracies about the election. In fact, YouTube didn't ban uploading this content until after Safe Harbor Day in mid-December, and it's still not taking down any of this known misleading content from before Safe Harbor Day, just adding a fact-checking blurb to the top of the search results. By contrast, Twitter started marking misleading or contested tweets about the election even before the polls closed.

YouTube Election Factcheck

Source: YouTube (Image credit: Source: YouTube)

YouTube's got a few reasons for not removing these videos, and no, "The First Amendment" is not one of them. These videos make money for YouTube, even if the uploader isn't making money from them. The more videos YouTube has to serve up to people who search for this bullshit, the more hours those people will spend watching YouTube and generating ad money, making comments, and sharing these videos to draw in more engagement and money.

One could argue that this is tainted money since YouTube is making it off radicalizing its users and spreading foment, but this is the 21st century, and websites will make money wherever and however they can.

AI is the future, and YouTube's needs a big injection of ethics.

The better argument to be made — both for YouTube and its users — is that YouTube's AI needs to be more ethically trained to try and guide people away from misleading content back towards factual content and, y'know, reality. Ethical AI is something Google has been having issues with the last few months after ousting one of its best AI researchers. YouTube needs as much ethical AI attention as Google Search if not more because the algorithms at YouTube so far have very, very, very little regard for ethical content.

Google.ai at Google I/O

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Outside the need for better AI, YouTube also needs a more robust and more human moderation system. Yes, there are too many videos uploaded every second to YouTube for a human to judge them all, and automatic flagging/removal/suspensions are going to be a thing. Still, YouTube needs to build up some moderation teams that handle specialized content so that generic rules stop hurting the marginalized communities they are supposed to protect.

Case in point: LGBTQ creators are more prone to having videos demonetized when discussing issues around their community, and while the videos are usually re-monetized after the review process, by then, they've missed practically all of the revenue that video would've made in the first days and weeks when YouTube's AI flagged it. YouTube should create moderating teams specifically for content types that run into issues more frequently, such as LGBTQ content, BIPOC content, political content, and gaming content.

Pride content on YouTube

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Build teams that are well-versed in this content and can more quickly and more consistently apply YouTube's policies. Not only could this make it easier to train YouTube's algorithms over time, but hopefully, by having moderation teams that focus on specific content types rather than all types of content, YouTube could help cut down on the high rate of turnover among YouTube's moderators. Having such teams could also make it easier for YouTube to react when major events happen within one content type, like this year's election and the mass disinformation campaign that accompanied it.

Half-measures for accessibility and COPPA need to come full circle

YouTube with automatic captions

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

It is now harder for those with hearing impairments to watch YouTube than it was a year ago. YouTube removed community captions, a method for people to add subtitle tracks to YouTube videos for creators that didn't or couldn't caption videos themselves. This means that unless a creator goes out of its way to make a subtitle track, you're stuck with the built-in AI-generated captions.

Why break what works, YouTube? Why?!

While AI-based captioning like Live Captions and YouTube's built-in version of Live Caption can help fill some of the gaps, it still doesn't do well with non-standard words/acronyms, strong accents, and overlapping voices. YouTube took away community captions due to a "lack of use," which is the same nonsense answer Google has used to kill dozens of perfectly functional services and features in the last three years, including Google Cloud Print — which dies New Year's Eve — and Google Play Music, which was replaced by a still buggy YouTube Music that will be getting its own section in a moment.

YouTube needs to improve the accessibility of its videos, and it needs to offer a robust toolbox to both creators and viewers to help make an accessible YouTube a reality.

The YouTube Kids Logo

Source: YouTube (Image credit: Source: YouTube)

Another area that needs a more thought-out implementation is how YouTube handles kids' content because what they rolled out a year ago is an absolute disgrace.

YouTube's lax approach to kids' content earned them a multimillion dollar fine from the FTC. In response, YouTube announced "improvements" to kids' content and data protection. These changes included disabling comments on millions of videos, disabling the mini-player, and other features.

The problem: not only did this make it harder for creators to get engagement for their channels and content, but this straight-up broke YouTube Music for families since it prevented you from liking these songs and adding them to playlists.

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

There are no easy answers when it comes to protecting kids online and offering them a safe and COPPA-compatible experience. But I know that YouTube can do better than this, and they should. First and foremost, though, they can keep these restrictions from impacting YouTube Music. Disabling the mini-player, likes, and playlist additions for kid-friendly music in YouTube Music makes absolutely no sense, especially when you cannot see comments or content suggestions when you click on a kids song in YouTube Music the way you would the main YouTube app.

It just drives parents back to Spotify and Apple Music, where everything just works properly.

YouTube Music needs to fix the basic features that have been broken for years.

YouTube Music needs to grow up

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

YouTube Music has had a consistency problem since it first launched in 2014 — yes, YouTube Music existed long before that 2018 "launch" — and there are a variety of issues that have been needing to be fixed since Day One that have never been touched.

2021 is the year YouTube Music has to get its shit together, or it's going to die a slow, painful death like Google Play Music did, and that shit starts with fixing casting.

Casting should've been fixed back in 2015.

Casting in YouTube Music is flat-out broken. If you cast a large playlist or some song-based mix, the player doesn't keep pulling in new songs once it gets to the bottom of the 15-or-so songs loaded in the queue. If you cast, you cannot shuffle or repeat songs — YouTube support says this is a "Premium-only feature," but no, it doesn't appear for Premium users, either.

Google owns and oversees the Chromecast system, and YouTube was one of the launch-day services. That casting is still breathtakingly screwed in 2020 is an embarrassment for the entire company and begs the question as to why anyone would buy a Cast speaker like the Nest Audio when YouTube Music has a worse experience with Cast than it does with Bluetooth.

Finally, A to Z sorting

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Are you trying to make it harder to make playlists, YouTube??

We finally have the ability to sort our library three ways — A-Z, Z-A, Recently added — but you still can't sort a playlist that way, nor do we have the ability to save the current queue as a playlist, set custom art for a playlist or even the ability to select multiple songs at once to add to a playlist. If you migrated from Google Play Music to YouTube Music this year, your library management just got about five times worse.

And let's not forget that while YouTube Music got the music locker service this year, there is no way to edit the song info or the album art for anything you upload, so you better be damn sure you got everything right before you add it to your library.

YouTube Music

Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Chris Wedel / Android Central)

YouTube Music showed great improvement this year and received plenty of good new features, like the Just For You Mixes and Year in Review. That said, none of them can make up for the fact that YouTube Music still absolutely refuses to get the basic needs of a music service taken care of and stable, even two years after its relaunch.

Downloads is another basic necessity that YouTube Music has continued to blunder, with songs needing to be re-downloaded at seemingly random times, a lack of a "cache while streaming" feature that its predecessor Google Play Music had, and Smart Downloads that often download playlists the user has never even seen before rather than playlists and albums in their libraries. If I can't count on having my music when the network goes down, then why pay for YouTube Music at all?!

Again, I use YouTube Music as my primary music app and have for the last two years. It's where my music and my heart are, but it enrages me that I still have to use Bluetooth rather than casting in order to repeat a song. It frustrates me that I can't sort a master mix playlist to ensure I don't have duplicate songs. It utterly infuriates me that Google decided to destroy a perfectly functional service for one that can't even show me how many times I've listened to a song. This app cannot rise about being an "honorable mention" in Best Music Apps until it straightens up and flies right.

So for all our sakes, YouTube, get your shit together.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

42 Comments
  • Oh YTM... it seemed ok while I was flipping between GPM and YTM. But now, so many little frustrations. They've pushed me to finally activate my Spotify free trial. The biggest thing holding me back is I don't want to lose ad free YT, so, YTM is such a great financial deal and paying for both seems silly. But I'm also finding a lot of Google's apps also aren't that great from a text accessibility side on iOS. But that's a different story.
  • I also jumped to Spotify when GPM shut down instead of migrating to YTM. Thanks Google for giving me a reason to check the competition.
  • Agreed, Ara. Youtube music is a mess and google play music was superior at the time of it's death. I would like to be able to cast to my SONOS speakers again!
  • Content moderation at the scale of YouTube is an impossible task to do well no matter how many people or how much AI you throw at it. AI always fails at recognising context in what it flags and human moderators will never have full agreement on what content should be taken down/demonetised. The high turnover in YouTube's content moderation team is most likely due to the mental health impacts of having to constantly look at the worst humanity can throw at them. There's no quick fix for this. It's also impossible to please everyone when it comes to moderation. There will always be complaints of doing too much and not doing enough - sometimes from the same people - regardless of the approach taken. And I haven't even started on inherent biases in AI. I've probably also missed a few things (such is the inherently complex nature of content moderation). TLDR: YouTube is on a hiding to nothing when it comes to content moderation.
  • Couldn't have said it better myself. How do humans decide what is over-the-line? How does a human hired by Google magically have access to sources others don't to know enough about every subject to successfully decide what is a fact and what isn't? If humans can't do it, how do can we possibly expect AI to do it. Yes there are blatant, out right lies, as well as highly graphic content that should be moderated. That content likely gets flagged quickly. But just because something is an ideology you don't agree with, doesn't mean it is false information.
  • Wow the sound of entitlement is astounding. A more moral AI. Based on what moral base? As morals differ depending on who you are and where you are from. As long as it is not the hypocritical and nonsensical christian set of morals then you might have an idea. As for the election. Lol if you think your vote matters then you have fallen for the propaganda and really shouldn't be telling others what to think. That kind of thinking has people in America thinking that the whole point in live is to work and pay taxes lol. So sad they lost the meaning of life. If something is not used by the majority then it gets removed. Just because you used it doesn't mean its useful. Again Entitled much? Those companies are more protective about a childs information. Its not about what they collect but who is collecting. Just because some idiots allow a data collection, sale and ad company to have all their data doesnt mean we should let them collect data on kids. Youtube music and music streaming in general is just stupid. You are renting music.
  • I'm not sure what to think about some of this. On one hand I agree that any Youtube video communicating hate for any race, religion, political view, violence and descent should be taken down but Youtube can not get into the moral aspect of video moderation. Just because we may not agree with the message, the opinion etc doesn't mean it isn't the users right to communicate it. Your first amendment rights are your first amendment rights and they are here to protect us. Since when should a platform that's sole purpose is to entertain, education and inform only give you information that conforms to their/your beliefs? Since when do we want to stop letting people come up with their own conclusions and opinions? Since when did we start thinking that we are right and everyone should believe what we believe and if you don't your ignorant, stupid and deserve to loss jobs, families and lives over it? If anyone would trust Google to morally police YouTube when they can't even morally police their own offices are just living in the clouds, grass is always green, sky is always blue and the world is a utopia.
  • You nailed it! Youtube "sole purpose is to entertain, education and inform". It isn't to only preach one side to every story. The country that it was founded in used to believe in 2 sides to every story, freedom of speech, right to religion and gather to practice said religion, rights to gather in general. But lately it seems like big major companies in Media have thought it's their duty to delegate what everyone can see, instead of allowing them to make up their own minds. Ara, what happens when Youtube and Twitter and Facebook decide to censor you or news that you agree with? What happens when they get so powerful that every news story you want to watch gets "fact-checked" and shut down because of the power and entitlement you gave them and turns back on you?? Freedom of speech does affect these platforms. If they allow news then it has to be from all sides as long as it isn't encouraging violence, actual hate-speech, or stopping other religious beliefs!
  • Ara got to use profanity in the article title. My use of expletives (as a joke, no less) gets blocked. AC needs to pull that plank out of their eye, it seems. :D
  • Other than the fact that YouTube has become a poorly targeted ad infested, auto-playing, crap prediction algo, head-ache inducing content consumption mess of an experience... the general populace needs to learn that just because something is on the Internet, does not mean that it is true (whether sanctioned by C-level execs, AI, algos, the gooberment or whatever). This content is just being pushed into darker and/or smaller corners of the Internet, which adds to its appeal and credibility (whether legit or not in the first place) among those that want to believe. Eventually these same tactics will be utilized by the next 'oppo' to censor and restrict the current orthodoxy. Sunshine is still the best disinfectant and always will be for ideas both good and bad.
  • Screw moderation. Who is youtube to decide what is real, conspiracy, etc. If you are an idiot and drink an ounce of cinnamon powder because it was latest dare, you deserve what happens. Just because you don't believe something is true or not doesn't mean I have to. There was enough Biden coverup anyway. Youtube is not a publisher....if they are then they should have the protection stripped as Trump suggest, otherwise I can put up my tinfoil hat videos and you can watch and believe or not. There are plenty of good alternative sites springing up already from the moderation garbage that is youtube, twitter, etc.
  • What you call moderation I call censorship.
  • Agree completely. Censorship.
  • Exactly. The article is laced with "spec in other people's eye", while the log.....
  • Could not agree with you more
    Seems like this piece was written by a far left liberal thinker where they feel like its ok to censor anyone that does not agree with their views
    Who is the author or anyone else to decide what is right and wrong? Are the only approved sources of information mainstream media like cnn and msnbc? if its not from them then its misinformation and should be "censored"? If it teaches gender is not fluid does it make it bad because you say so?
    People like this author are part of the problem not the solution
  • Ain't that truth....
  • Yes. I can't tell you how much my kids and their teachers love that you can't add kids videos to a playlist in YT. /S As a free member, YTM is still a thorn in my side. I use it because my GPM library ported just fine but that's about all it does. Well, that and uploading music works nearly every time, unlike GPM that was finicky at best. Casting is atrocious. I can't cast ad supported stations to my Mini but I can to my Chromecast? Wha? And don't get me started on Android Auto integration. If I put a playlist on shuffle while connected, it plays 3 to 4 songs in playlist order then jumps somewhere else in the playlist and does the same thing. But it works fine in the app and continues fine after connecting it.
  • Unreal, a moral AI? You really have no idea whatsoever what you are wishing for. Scary stuff comrade.
  • Please, please, please!! There is no need for cuss words in articles, especially titles!!
  • Agree with AJ Stone regarding swearing in the title. Takes away any sense of professionalism in an already 'crappy' article.
  • Thank you. That was my only point. It had nothing to do with YT Music. Just the article title on AndroidCentral.
  • Oh you Liberal Leftists... "It's not ok to censor any media... Unless it isn't what I believe" "Your truth is ok as long as it's not public and no Media is talking about it" You can't seriously think that any media including Youtube isn't illegal Censorship when it takes down demonetizes any video that it politically doesn't agree with??? I swear we are living in the Twilight Zone right now with Leftists in control of Media. Up is Down and Down is Up. Censorship is ok, Socialism is good, Capitalism is bad, Religion is bad...
  • Keep believing your line of Bulls$!t
  • YouTube Music is terrible. They killed Google Play Music for a dumpster fire of an app.
  • You guys no damn well GPM was garbage compared to its competitors lol
  • GPM was mediocre, but it was still far better than YTM in the rental streaming space. GPM was the best place to upload your own music that you already paid for and could listen to how you wished. YTM has broken the best part of GPM.
  • Ara you're so professional. Then I realize who you write for and it all makes sense
  • Maybe people need to just realize YouTube stopped being YOUTube years ago. It's now GoogleTube. If you don't like what they're doing, leave the platform, demonetize it so nobody gets rewarded and you get content for free (what I do), or suck it up and bear it.
    Sorry, but GoogleTube turning into more of a liberal bully pulpit isn't my idea of getting **** (I'm censored; the author isn't. "Ethics for thee; none for me.") together.
    And what's with the ******* (<-- How rich! I get MY expletives censored, but not the author? HYPOCRITE MUCH? Lol) profanity in the title?
  • The folks on AC use profanity all the time. Ive even heard the F bomb on the podcast. Think it was Bader. Oh well I've heard and said worse but it is still unattractive. Save it for the comments section.
  • Spotify loves YTM. The shutdown of GPM drove many people to Spotify. Me included.
  • I've been surfing on AC for many years now. I enjoy the content, articles, forums, etc. I do this to escape the onslaught of 'crap' in every day life. This idea: "YouTube's AI needs to be more ethically trained to try and guide people away from misleading content back towards factual content and, y'know, reality.
    please". You have no idea what you're asking for. Keep the SJW out of AC...please.
  • I have several kinds of wishes around YouTube. However, the primary matter seems to me, that the Alphabet people in charge should make their minds up about they want YouTube to be. (But that could be a proxy to a discussion on what the Internet should be.) Do they (not we) see YouTube as "out in the street" (where everything can happen, uncensored) or as "news" media (with an editor that is responsible for keeping the provided content within borders)?
    Either way, they could monetize it. I could argue either way. Yes, we can discuss it. "We" seem Americans, but I'm European (Dutch, to be specific). One man's truth is another man's fake. (Do I need to name religions here?) One man's hero is another man's villain. One man's obscenity (like: showing parts of the body) differs from another man's (like: showing parts of weapons). We might be able to get it both ways, but "the global" YouTube might split up, alongside "the global" Facebook and "the global" Internet. To me, the Internet (including YouTube) is a great thing. A means of assessing the greenness of the grass on the far side of the hill, of learning arguments that may change my position, of being able to purchase things that no one would keep in stock here. Me, I would favor the unmonitored YouTube in an unmonitored Internet. I would merely need to be aware of the possibility (even likelihood) of news being colored and of the "recommendations" by YouTube that would place me inside a bubble.
    Aren't these two awarenesses a small price for having access to "everything"?
  • More censorship on YouTube? Lol. That's the last thing it needs. This article sucks.
  • YTM sucks on so many levels. The only thing I like is being able to have a shared playlist when you're casting. We use this to share music on the stereo when we're making dinner. The annoyance I hadn't seen anyone else mention is that your music library can't be merged--uploads and YT music songs are always separate. I like being able to separate them, but GPM would give you a single music library view of songs you uploaded and songs you added from GPM, so you could shuffle across it say. I don't think you can do that with YTM. Another thing I miss is custom new music recommendations based on my existing library. YTM really just seems to be a facade to drive people to the hellscape that is YouTube and its content. It is not a music listening or curating service. For the record Spotify isn't either. GPM came the closest in my opinion and it was also deeply flawed. I haven't played with Tidal or Qobuz so I can't speak for them, but really no music service does collection management the way I like. My "physical" music (CDs and purchased FLAC downloads) are in a Logitech Media Server for playing on my Squeezebox, and it's not perfect either but it's the best out there for actually managing a music collection (I'd like better integration with Discogs though, as I've recently uploaded my entire collection to there too.)
  • What they need to do is stop censoring those channels and content creators who don't tow the party line and bow down to kiss the ring or the prevailing orthodoxy and ideology. Remember the pendulum swings and you don't know which side you may end up on. Freedom of speech is paramount and it cannot exist partially. It either is or it isn't. Worse, big tech shouldn't be allowed to decide who they tolerate and who they don't. Be careful that you don't inadvertently create the very monsters and backlash you are supposedly fighting. Also, the amount of commercials/ads needs to be reduced. I get that ads are now part and parcel of YouTube... but the amount is starting to get ridiculous, nevermind that the interruptions are oftentimes arbitrary and quite sudden. Nevermind they are really, really annoying... I know that it seems highly improbable that there will be an alternative to YouTube anytime soon. But one never knows. We may be one technological advance away that could render YouTube useless. If YouTube wants to stay relevant, then stop driving your content creators, customers and viewers, away. Stop picking on them, stop frustrating them.
  • There's a good handful of alternatives already, albeit not the most polished user experiences and offerings as YouTube has, they still work, and are growing in popularity: GabTV
    Bitchute
    Rumble
    LBRY / Odysee
    ...and growing!
  • Brighteon as well
  • Re: Title and closing sentence, I'm hoping AC maintains/restores editorial standards and doesn't go the way of 'Lifehacker.com' lowlife.
  • "misinformation" is not any more of a problem on YouTube than it is anywhere else. Please stop pushing censorious ideas in the guise of "moderation". Youtube's biggest problem is the lack of algorithmic transparency and their intentionally broken dmca system that lets corporations and other youtubers steal money through bogus strikes.
  • Yeah, as if Google has the moral foundation to be a guide for society. I would not be surprised if humanity ends with a few people at the extreme opposite sides of a room, hurling insults and rocks at each other until they are all dead. Does everybody have to be foaming at the mouth? Is there such a thing as middle ground anymore? YouTube is a cesspool, and although I would have no problem with Google removing videos encouraging people to commit suicide or are technically incorrect, I do have issue with them removing viewpoints that they just don't agree with. In today's society, one person's poison is another's pleasure, and hypocrisy is the new normal. I'm still laughing over the guy who was involved in the attempted abduction of a governor because of her decisions to protect public health, and now he's afraid of catching COVID-19 in jail. Now about YouTube Music, it still sucks. I used to use GPM all the time for general music, and ever since I was quite literally forced into YTM, I've used it three times. The UI is a mess, the sound quality is audibly worse, and I still don't like having knives, potholders, and paperclips in the same kitchen drawer. Google has pushed me to abandon them for music, and I can't think of anything that will get me back.
  • I hope someone from youtube reads this.....they have made the site worse in 2019 n 2020.....
    removing serial no from watch later....not letting us drag videos up-down in watch later......its just so screwed up.
  • I would call you out for more censorship but, Im guessing thats Racist or bigotry. or some other Cis-gendered crime. Go get a soy late and relax.