How YouTube Keeps a Video from Going Viral
Jim Feltzer comments on the manner in which YouTube, after acquisition by Google, keeps a video from going viral and how numbers are intentionally limited. Thanks to Graham
YouTube Harassment as Cyber Warfare
Jim Feltzer, Deep Politics Forum, n.d.
What are your thoughts on the censorship that is taking place on YouTube?
When I started my YouTube channel, I had already been using Google Video for a few months. I also went to lots of different forums and posted links to movies like Terror Storm and Loose Change. Every day these movies were consistently in the top 10 most watched videos on Google Video. But then Google removed the hit counters on all the videos and then they got rid of the top 100 most-viewed list altogether. The censorship got so bad on Google Video that I decided to try to redress the balance a bit by opening a YouTube account and trying to get information out on there.
At that time YouTube was not owned by Google, so there wasn’t really any significant censorship to speak of on YouTube. But within a few months of me starting up my YouTube channel, Google bought YouTube for $1.6 billion, and then within a few months after that, the censorship really started to kick in. For instance, three years ago, many of my YouTube videos would receive a million views within a month. Now I post better quality videos and yet they often fail to reach even 20,000 views within a month. This is staggering when you consider that three years ago I had around 3,000 subscribers and now I have over 70,000 subscribers. However this is just one of many examples that show how much censorship is taking place on YouTube right now. I’ll try to explain this in a bit more detail below.
The primary method YouTube uses to suppress videos is to manipulate the view counter that is displayed below the video itself. You will notice that the ratings counter, favorites counter and comments counter, all update in near-real time. However, the view counter only updates in near-real time for the FIRST 300 VIEWS (it used to be 200). What happens is this: When you post a video and people start watching it, you will notice the view counter increasing as more and more people watch your video. Let’s say the view counter has now risen to 290 views and then suddenly another 23 people all come to your video at the same time. The view counter will register all of those 23 views in near-real time. This is because they all came to your video before the view counter had actually reached the 300 mark.
Therefore the view counter will count all of those views and display a figure of 313 and then it will stop displaying the figure in real time. On the other hand, let’s say the counter was on 290 views and then 12 people came to watch your video. The counter would rise to 302 because those 12 people were all watching your video when the counter reached the 300 mark. However, once the counter has reached or surpassed the 300 mark, the counter will stop and it will no longer update in real-time. Some people argue that this is because the view counters for videos are displayed in lots of different places on YouTube, and the constant updating of all of these view counters puts a lot of strain on YouTube’s servers.
ut if this was the case, why doesn’t YouTube have any problem updating the ratings, favorites and comments counters in real time? I’ve seen videos that have received 20,000 ratings within 2 days and these ratings update in real time, every time. And yet the view counter is stuck on something like 323, and it can stay like that for 24 or even 48 hours. Surely you’d expect YouTube to be able to update the view counters at least once every hour. But in most cases all they can manage is about 3 or 4 view counter updates per day.
The evidence strongly suggests that YouTube (ie: Google) is deliberately stopping the view counters at 300 views in order to give their algorithms time to decide which videos should be suppressed and which ones should not. For example, let’s say you posted a highly controversial video about a topic that is particularly damning to someone like Barack Obama. And let’s say this video was hugely popular and that 50,000 people viewed that video in the first 12 hours. What YouTube does is to stop the counter when it surpasses the 300 mark, and then all further views are not displayed in real time. Then, after say 12 hours, they will update the view counter, but instead of showing the real view count of 50,000 views, the view counter will display a number like 3,012 ‘ even though the ratings and comments counters might have already reached 4,000. Then, say 10 hours after that, they will update the view counter again – but instead of showing the true number of views, which might be, say 100,000, the counter will only show something like 6,454 views.
The purpose of this is to stop your video from reaching the first page of the most-viewed lists for that day. With 100,000 views, your video would most certainly reach the first page of the most-viewed list for that day. However, with only 3,000 views it probably won’t even reach the last page. The counter will continue updating like this so that, after 48 hours, the counter will rise to something like 15,016 – even though in reality your video may have received 200,000 views. Once your video has been up on YouTube for 48 hours, it can no longer appear in today’s most-viewed lists, and this is where most of the views for a viral video will come from in the first place.
From this point on, YouTube doesn’t need to manipulate the view counter because they have already achieved what they set out to do and that is to stop your video from going viral. In order for a video to go viral, within the first day it must reach the first page of the most-viewed list for that day. In most cases, if your video fails to reach the first page on day one, it cannot go viral.
How does YouTube know which videos to suppress when there are so many videos uploaded every minute? All the work is carried out automatically by algorithms that search through the video title, description and tags to find specific keywords that YouTube deems as controversial. They can also search through the audio of the video itself in order to find controversial words. If any of those keywords is found, the algorithm will down-rank your video to stop it from appearing on the first pages of the most viewed lists – regardless of how many views the video has actually received.
This is the whole purpose of freezing the view counters when they surpass 300 views; it gives YouTube’s algorithms the opportunity to manipulate the view counters without being caught red-handed. It’s all pretty straightforward and it can all be carried out automatically without any human intervention whatsoever. Google has been doing this successfully with their search engine for the last ten years, and they are experts in this field, so it is not a problem for them to apply these same algorithmic techniques to a site like YouTube.
So what can we do about this censorship? Well, since Google is a private company, they can operate whatever policy they choose – even when the policy is unethical and goes against free speech. If you want to make informative videos about controversial subjects, and you want to reach a lot of people with those videos, you simply cannot afford to stop using YouTube. After all, it is the most popular video sharing site and it is among the top 5 most popular sites on the Internet. At this point, no other video sharing site can offer you the same amount as exposure as YouTube. So we have to just grin and bear it, despite the obvious censorship that is taking place.
However, there are many things we can do. Firstly, we should get into the habit of posting our videos on other popular video sharing sites – such as Yahoo, LiveVideo.com, Blip.tv and DailyMotion.com. This way we can take Google out of the loop so that they have no control over the information we put out there. If you upload your video to five other sites, and on each site your video receives 1,000 views, that’s better than putting your video only on YouTube and it getting 5,000 views. It is better because if YouTube takes your video down, it is gone and your video cannot gain any more views. But if one of the other video sites takes your video down, you’ll still have your video hosted on the other 4 sites. This way we don’t have to rely exclusively on YouTube to reach large numbers of people.
Another thing we can do is to use YouTube to our advantage by creating lots of YouTube channels and posting our videos on each of those channels using different keywords each time for the titles, descriptions and tags. This way, if they take down one of your channels, you still have lots of others to continue with. It is always a good idea to have a backup channel on YouTube anyway because you never know when your channel will be taken down. The chances are that if you upload controversial content, your channel WILL be taken down at some point. It’s just a matter of WHEN, not IF. So it pays to have at least one backup channel.
Another big thing we can do is to raise awareness of the censorship on YouTube so that no one is under any illusions about the way YouTube works in terms of ranking videos. We can organize regular boycotts of YouTube and we can post lots of videos that explain the censorship that is taking place on YouTube. There are many other things you can do to counter YouTube’s censorship, you just need to get thinking. But the most important thing right now is to continue using YouTube because it is the most popular video site.
(3) Why have you not posted any of your OWN videos for the last few months?
The last two videos of my own that I posted on YouTube are the one called “Who controls The Web”, featuring David Icke, and a video called “The President Who Told The Truth”, which featured a speech by JFK. These were posted around March of 2009. Since then I have only posted videos that other people have sent me and asked me to re-post on my channel. I have also posted a few breaking news reports.
The initial reason why I stopped posting my own videos was that I had become so disappointed at the way YouTube was censoring the view counters on every video I post. I reached the final straw when I posted the “Who controls The Web” video and saw that during the first 48 hours the number of ratings were consistently higher than the number of views, even after the view counter had been updated. After three days the ratings had reached over 2,000 and the comments had reached over 1,000. And yet the view counter had barely reached 6,000 views, even though it was being updated about four times a day. In one 8-hour period I saw the ratings rise by over 500 and yet when the view counter updated, it only went up by about 300. This is quite disturbing when you consider that my channel had over 50,000 subscribers at the time.
Even when YouTube doesn’t blatantly censor the view counter on your video, they will often prevent your video from appearing in the most-viewed list anyway. For example, in December 2008, I posted a video which received 130,000 views within the first two days. This meant that the video should have appeared on the first page of the most-viewed videos for that day (globally) at number 18. However, YouTube put my video on the last page, at number 93, and left it there, even though it had already received enough views to be displayed on the first page of the most-viewed list. This is a typical example of algorithmic demotion.
Anyway, since then I’ve got over the censorship and I’ve accepted that I cannot stop it directly on my own. So all I can do is just accept the censorship and try to carry on in spite of it. It has taken me a couple of months to fully accept this, but it has done me a lot of good to take a break from making videos. It has helped me to take a step back and re-evaluate the work I’m doing on YouTube and to put things into perspective. When I start making videos again, I’ll be coming at it with a fresh mind and without any hang-ups about the censorship. I’m hoping to start posting my own videos again within the next few weeks.