Months after YouTube's decision to flag videos that have unsavoury language or themes as "not friendly to advertisers", Australian vloggers say the decision is affecting them financially.
YouTube made the change in March following complaints from influential advertisers that their commercials were appearing next to videos from hate groups and extremists.
Google, YouTube's owner, also promised to change the way it placed ads.
YouTube's "advertiser-friendly content guidelines" refer to the site's AdServ Program Policy, a long document that outlines the site's content guidelines. All YouTubers have to comply with this policy — which Google asserts allows advertisers the choice of where to show their ads — if they want to monetise their videos.
However, it became clear shortly after the guidelines were implemented that YouTube's new policy was unpopular with many. Prominent YouTuber's started reporting that hundreds of their videos had been demonetised without warning.
Later, YouTube announced channels would need 10,000 lifetime views before being able to generate revenue from ads. Independent videos are required to have over 1,000 views to be monetised. The site's most-watched vlogger, PewDiePie, called it the "Adpocalypse."
In recent months influential companies such as Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors have withdrawn advertising from Google and YouTube, after marketing executive Eric Feinberg revealed advertisements appearing alongside unsavoury content.
But Australian vloggers say they were affected in the same way as many of YouTube's biggest channels.
Earlier this month, popular vlogger Casey Neistat had a video covering the Las Vegas massacre demonetised. Neistat, who has over 8,000,000 subscribers, had promised to donate all proceeds from the video to charity but later tweeted that his video had been flagged unsuitable for advertising. YouTube responded: "We love what you're doing to help but no matter the intent our policy is not to run ads on videos about tragedies."
Later, another prominent YouTuber, Philip DeFranco, pointed out that YouTube was allowing General Motors advertisements on a video from late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel about the Las Vegas tragedy. "People are tired of this and you can be better," he said.
And now vloggers say the Australian vocabulary is becoming an issue.
YouTube uses an algorithm to flag videos that could potentially upset advertisers. If a vlogger feels their video has been incorrectly flagged, they can contact a 100% real human being to help them through the appeal process, but many Australian vloggers offered varying accounts on how successful this process was.
Some say their videos were flagged because of keywords such as "gay", while others were generally clueless as to what triggered YouTube's algorithm to demonetise their video.
In a video on his channel last week Australian standup comedian and YouTuber Lewis Spears laid it all out: "Videos with 'excessive swearing' are considered ineligible for ads. However, swearing in Australia is not offensive. It's just how we talk. It's a part of our culture. And to take that away from us is discrimination at its finest.
"Calling someone a 'sick cunt' in America may well be offensive but in Australia, that's the best compliment we have."
Undeniably, the Australian approach to language and "curse words" is different to the rest of the world. This is a nation where a judge recently ruled that it was fair game and not at all offensive for a man to walk around Sydney with a sign calling the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, a "c∀nt".
“The prevalence of the impugned word [cunt] in Australian language is evidence that it is considered less offensive in Australia than other English speaking countries, such as the United States,” the judgment read.
BuzzFeed Australia's own style guide features a different approach to swearing from our international counterparts. But does this way of speaking affect the incomes of the relatively few lucky Australians who make a living off YouTube?
The site says that is not the case.
"Any suggestion that we discriminate against Australians for swearing is absolute BS," said a spokesperson for YouTube Australia, pointing out that context matters when it comes to a video being flagged as ineligible for advertising.
However, BuzzFeed News spoke to several Australian YouTubers who all said the changes had impacted their business negatively.
Spears told BuzzFeed News his income had shrunk from $1,000 a month to around $100. "If you look at any rap video with swearing and drug use and violence, they still have ads, but there are different rules for YouTube because of the way we naturally talk," he said.
Some Vloggers say YouTube has never offered them advice on how many times they can say words such as shit, wanker, dickhead, fuck or cunt before something is deemed not friendly for advertisers.
Others say mentions of any word that may be deemed offensive automatically results in a video being flagged.
Ethan of Ozzy Man Reviews, a comedy page that reviews and narrates viral videos, said YouTube's guidelines and lack of clarity could result in waves of YouTubers finding their videos flagged. But Ethan is able to prioritise his comedy ahead of any financial benefit.
"The ad-friendly guidelines are simultaneously specific and vague, which is ultimately not that helpful," he told BuzzFeed News.
Some have turned to Facebook as their main source of exposure, sacrificing the potential ad revenue on YouTube, as well as the social networking opportunity the site offers to coexist with other vloggers. They say they are having to choose between what they see as an opportunity to build their brand, or an opportunity to make a living.
"My YouTube channel is fucked," said vlogger Jamie Zhu, who has over one million Facebook followers. "Thank fuck for Facebook."
Travel vlogger Dioni Pinilla said he was rebranding his channel to "fit in" with YouTube's new policies after realising the site would not budge on its policy.
"I feel paranoid if I upload anything that may appear to be 'controversial'," he said.
YouTuber Angry Aussie, who has been posting videos to the site for a decade, told BuzzFeed News he had given up on monetising his videos: "I don't think it's worth subjecting my viewers to ads for the paltry amount they bring in. [YouTube] would more than likely declare most of what I do 'not suitable'."
As discontent among YouTube’s billions of views vlogger machine grows, Twitter is moving fast into live video. Facebook launched a video app on Apple TV in March. While there’s apparently still less money to be made posting video on Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth than on YouTube right now, the vloggers are definitely watching.
Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Brad Esposito at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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