Image: Andrew Perry/Flickr
On Tuesday, Google announced a new policy on YouTube where they will be continuously auditing videos for fraudulent views, aka the practice of artificially inflating video views with robots known on the site as “botting.” This isn’t the first time Google has taken a stand against botting, and it makes sense that Google would want to maintain the integrity of their site —advertisers on YouTube want to reach real people, not robots—but Google’s new policy does nothing to address the content creators who have been unfairly penalized for botting when they didn’t actually do so.
Botting has been a problem on YouTube since at least 2009, because users either want the fame or a larger paycheck from Google but lack the videomaking prowess and fanbase to achieve high viewership on their own. Botters up until 2012 were exploiting YouTube’s mobile API to deliver their services, which cost anywhere from $50 for 60,000 views to $5 for a few thousand views.
Paying for fake views has long-term consequences, however: Content creators whose videos have been caught as botted get a digital slap on the wrist, which translates to having their video removed or their entire YouTube account suspended. Enemies of certain YouTubers have used Google’s punitive stance on botting to their advantage by paying to have videos of users they don’t like botted as a way of silencing their critics.
Back in March 2012, I wrote about a user who purchased bots to frame another user critical of his girlfriend, a reply girl. By April, that user who spoke out against the girlfriend of the bot purchaser had his entire account suspended, with no means of recourse.
A year later, comedy rock band Fortress of Attitude found its most popular video removed by YouTube who suspected it of being botted after it was linked on high-trafficked websites like the Huffington Post. While combating the video takedown and trying to clear their name of this robot crime, Fortress of Attitude found themselves in a Kafka-esque hell where YouTube would only respond to their queries and letters from lawyers by using robots themselves.
It is now 2014, and content creators are still being falsely flagged or penalized for botting they didn’t do themselves. More importantly, there is no way for them to fight this robot charge. In a blog post on New Media Rights today, attorney Teri Karobonik wrote false botting flags has affected dozens of YouTubers and highlighted three of their clients who had been unfairly penalized for botting—a songwriter, a law student podcaster and an international pop star.
Google has remained silent on this issue of false botting charges, and did not respond to a request for comment at time of publication. According to New Media Rights, the company hasn’t even acknowledged that this is a problem.
“Once YouTube acknowledges this [issue], YouTube could mitigate the problem by developing tools to allow users to block, self-report and or remove fraudulent activity from their view count,” wrote Karobonik in an email.
“Perhaps most importantly, she continued, "YouTube must also develop a meaningful appeals process. As it stands, none of the cases we observed had their videos restored. That includes two cases where we were able to figure out which unrelated party bought views. It's perfectly fine if these view counts are adjusted for fraudulent views but removing the video, the likes, the comments and telling users that further infractions may ‘lead to their account being removed from YouTube’ is a heavy-handed way to deal with a complex problem.”