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YouTubers can swear at the start of videos again without getting demonetized

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Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge

YouTube will ease its restrictions on swearing in videos after an update it rolled out in November sparked backlash from several creators, and the company will be reviewing videos that had their monetization affected by the policy. In a video uploaded to the Creator Insider channel, the company says it reviewed the data on how the new rules were enforced and found that they “resulted in a stricter approach than we intended.” The update means that creators will still be able to make at least some money on videos, even if there’s mild swearing up front, though the restrictions remain confusing and don’t fully revert to the older rules.

As a recap, late last year, the company changed its advertiser-friendly content guidelines to say that if a video contained swearing within the first 15 seconds, it may be demonetized — that is, the platform wouldn’t run ads on it, severely limiting the creator’s ability to earn revenue. A creator could also get dinged if they used a lot of profanity throughout the video (exactly how much wasn’t clear), and the change was retroactive. Videos that were made under the old rules that explicitly permitted swearing were suddenly no longer advertiser-friendly.

The new rules aren’t completely walking back those changes, but the company is making some tweaks like it promised to do in January. For example, the new update makes it so that creators will still be eligible for some ads if they use “stronger profanity” within the first seven seconds of a video, whereas ads would’ve been turned off entirely before. The company also says that “video content using profanity, moderate or strong, after the first seven seconds will now be eligible for monetization, unless used repetitively throughout the majority of the video.” Again, the last update made it so those videos wouldn’t receive any monetization.

There is definitely still some vagueness here. Creators have pointed out that it’s not clear what YouTube means when it says that they can’t use swearing in the “majority of the video.” However, it may help that YouTube is no longer treating all profanity the same. The November update basically flattened the hierarchy; calling someone an “ass” was just as bad as calling them a “motherfucker.” Now, words like “bitch,” “douchebag,” “asshole,” and “shit” are all considered “moderate” profanity, while words like “fuck” are “stronger profanity.” (Slurs and derogatory terms are covered by a separate set of rules.)

The company is also making some other clarifications; swearing in background music, backing tracks, and intro or outro music won’t get you demonetized, but profanity in thumbnails will, though the company says this was the case even before the November update.

YouTube says that these changes go into effect on March 7th and that, by March 10th, it will have “re-reviewed” videos that received limited advertising because of the November update. Videos that were demonetized entirely will also be reviewed, according to Michael Aciman, a Google spokesperson.

In its Creator Insider video, YouTube explains why it applied the November change retroactively, changing the monetization status of videos that were totally fine under past guidelines. The TL;DR is that the content is still receiving new advertisements — if you click on a video from a creator’s backlog, you’ll still be served an ad from current campaigns.

The company also addresses the complaints from some creators that it didn’t properly communicate the changes in November. The company says that there’ll be a notification about Tuesday’s changes in the Creator Studio, the dashboard where YouTubers upload and edit videos and view analytics and other data.

The reactions to the announcement have been mixed. Twitter commentators have called it both a “major dub” (as in “w,” meaning “win”) and a “Common YouTube L” (as in “loss”). SungWon Cho, who goes by ProZD on YouTube and was a vocal critic of the November update, told The Verge, “The changes are better in theory, but I won’t be able to know for sure until I see that they actually work as promised.”

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