By Shira Ovide
July 6, 2020, 1:08 p.m. ET
Facebook is a place where people get attention — but not typically where they make much money. YouTube is both.
The video site, owned by Google, shares the money it earns from its commercials with its video creators, making it a potentially lucrative place for people airing comedy shows, animal documentaries or beauty tutorials. Even though Facebook has a huge audience, it can be harder to make money there.
This gives YouTube the ability to shut off the money for people who spew vitriol or harassment. Exercising its power of the purse can be a significant way to assert control over people who use and abuse the site.
We’ve seen that deliberate designs of our internet spaces, such as rewarding posts that generate a high number of interactions, can help the most provocative and potentially harmful messages spread more widely. But YouTube shows that some constructions of online spaces can help combat the nastiness, too.
Let me explain this big difference between YouTube and Facebook and most other social media sites: If you watch a lot of YouTube, you know that commercials appear in most videos. Typically, Google sells those ads and splits the money with the person or organization behind the video.
Facebook sells more than $70 billion worth of ads each year, but it doesn’t typically share that money with the creators of the posts. (The fairness of this arrangement between Facebook and the people who make the stuff that is read and watched on the site is a sensitive subject, including for news organizations. Facebook does in limited cases split ad money or let Facebook and Instagram users find other ways to make money from their posts.)
YouTube’s widespread advertising revenue sharing gives it a form of punishment that Facebook doesn’t have.
To get people to stop harassing others, inciting violence or spreading false information, Facebook can delete offensive posts, apply warning labels to them or limit how often its computer system circulates them. Or it can kick people off Facebook entirely.
YouTube can do that, too — plus it has the power to turn off ads. Think of it like a middle ground between mild scolding (muting a post) and going nuclear (banning an account). This can be a powerful motivation for habitual offenders.
Two years ago, YouTube shut off commercials for one of its most popular stars, Logan Paul, after he made several tasteless videos, including one that showed a dead body hanging from a tree. Paul apologized. YouTube stopped allowing commercials on videos by Stefan Molyneux, a prominent far-right figure, before it banned him last week for repeatedly violating YouTube’s policies against hate speech.
Having this power doesn’t make YouTube free from horribles. Far from it. Internet companies can have all the rules and punishments in the world, but they’re toothless if they can’t effectively enforce them. And it’s not always easy to draw a line between providing an open forum for ideas and giving a megaphone to divide and incite people.
I do think, though, that banning ads is an effective middle ground. It’s also an argument for Facebook and online hangouts like it to start sharing more revenue with the people and organizations that are big draws there. It might be more fair, yes, and it would give Facebook another way to hold bad actors responsible for what they say and do.