YouTubers Don’t Need Your Sympathy

Illustration: Intelligencer

Oh no. It’s happening. I dreaded this day would come and here it is. I’m verklempt. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. Oh, the horror. I’m freaking out and losing my mind and running through the streets naked in the throes of mania. Yes, the rumors are true: YouTube is changing its criteria for verification. Please stay calm. And yes, some people may become — and I am going to vomit just thinking about it — unverified.

Up until yesterday, any account with more than 100,000 subscribers could get verified, no questions asked. Now, YouTube is determining who gets the designation on a case-by-case basis. Verification on YouTube is similar to verification on other social-media sites, is currently denoted by a check mark (YouTube is changing how it denotes verified accounts in the near future), and was only intended as a way to protect popular users against imposters. Over time, however, verification has been wrongly but widely interpreted as a platform’s endorsement of a particular user and their beliefs, or as a mark of quality.

A number of YouTube users reportedly received emails from the company that their “verified” status might be revoked, and a number of misunderstandings regarding the fact that the checkmark does not appear in YouTube’s mobile app have led to further paranoia about users suddenly getting unverified.

The complaints around what YouTube has done wrong here are … muddled. Scroll through angry tweets and you’ll find YouTubers worried that their accounts will be ripped off and impersonated, but more likely, you’ll find people who vaguely articulate that the notion of unverifying YouTubers is somehow disrespectful, and that YouTube is “going corporate” and “abandoning its roots.” It’s the familiar rhetoric of the little guy getting screwed over by capitalist interests.

These complaints are, by and large, unconvincing. There isn’t necessarily a single formula for calculating how much a YouTuber/influencer/creator/whatever makes, but even the most general scan of the landscape would lead you to assume that they are not struggling artists. Consider Luke Meagher, who griped to the New York Times that “the trending page went from all influencers to Jimmy Fallon, Vevo, professional music videos.” This observation is extremely anecdotal and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Meagher, according to the third-party social-media analytics site SocialBlade, is estimated to make as much as $81,000 a year from YouTube ad revenue (and to be fair, as little as $5,000). Tack on other monetization opportunities (like sponcon or brand partnerships) and you might get an even higher number. Based on recent weekly earning statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income in the U.S. right now is just under $47,000.

The creator economy, generally speaking, does not have a middle class. Anyone earning money as a content creator (a term I hate) falls into one of two camps: they either don’t earn close to enough money to make the effort worth it, or they earn so much money that something like losing a verification badge is not going to put a noticeable dent in earnings. There are comparatively few who live on the razor’s edge of financial viability. Verification is not even mentioned as a requirement for any of the monetization options offered by YouTube. All of this is to say that the assertion that verification is some sort of make-or-break attribute for YouTubers is bunk.

The argument that YouTube is “going corporate” makes no sense. YouTube is corporate. It’s their ad auction tech that pays content creators gobs of money. The entire point of trying to grow a social-media following to insane heights is in the pursuit of money and fame. It’s like a pop star loudly proclaiming that they won’t sell out even as they license their tracks to a car commercial, and aspiring musicians demanding to get paid for showing up to the audition.

Which leaves the complaint that YouTube isn’t showing creators enough “respect.” How sad. YouTubers don’t need anyone’s sympathy. They’ll be fine.

YouTubers Don’t Need Your Sympathy