Tuesday, August 03, 2021
The fragility of the influencer business
On YouTube I have a long list of channels I am subscribed to. That serves a dual purpose: I get updates when these channels post something new, and the content providers get increased ad revenues, so it is kind of my way of at least minimally "paying" them for the content they create. One of the channels I am subscribed to is The Spiffing Brit, who makes amusing posts about how he is breaking various games with in-game exploits. The Spiffing Brit recently fell for a scam that got his YouTube channel deleted (but he recovered it since). So did Jim Browning, who has a channel exposing scammers. And apparently there are a number of other YouTubers who fell for the same scam. Now the scammer apparently wasn't all that much interested in monetizing his exploit, to me it appeared that he was deliberately targeting people who have channels about scams and exploits in order to measure himself against the most informed possible targets. But for me that action was somewhat revealing about the fragility of the influencer "industry".
You probably heard how earlier this year a ransomware attack shut down a major pipeline in the USA, resulting in gasoline shortages and price increases. It is one of a handful of examples of hackers causing real industrial damages, as opposed to causing damage to reputation. A lot of companies simply have their industrial process control systems deliberately *not* connected to the internet, so a hacker would need to first gain physical access to the location before being able to do any harm. But even more importantly, these process control systems tend to have failsafe mechanisms hardwired, so a hacker can shut a pipeline down, but he can't make that pipeline explode. While hackers are able to damage companies, ultimately a brick & mortar company always retains controls over their physical assets, and recovers from the attack.
In the case of influencers on YouTube, their YouTube channel basically *is* the company. If that channel gets deleted, and the YouTuber can't manage to persuade YouTube to reverse that deletion, the business is gone. I have some small scale personal insight into the influencer business from the time my blog was actually popular and I had my 15 minutes of Warholian fame on the internet. At the time some people recommended that I should move away from Blogger and onto Wordpress for this or that reason. And the reality of things is that you can't: Whatever subscriber base you have as an influencer, your Google page rank that leads searches to you, and all other similar systems are linked to your one output channel, whether that is a blog or a YouTube channel. Even if you have all the content saved on a hard drive, and you make a new channel with the same name and the same content, your history is attached to your original channel, and is gone if you switch. My blog was never a commercial enterprise, so a destruction of my blog wouldn't have hurt anything but my pride. But these days, some YouTubers make significant amounts of money, and actually employ other people, for example video editors. Some channels effectively are small companies in the content creation business.
The way the scammer got YouTubers to delete their channel was by pretending to be from YouTube and threatening their channel with deletion if they didn't follow certain steps in the account settings. That, and the fact that these YouTubers managed to get that deletion reversed by contacting the real YouTube, reveals that hackers aren't the greatest worry: The company controlling the platform is. YouTube channels get deleted all the time by YouTube, because the channel owner did something that is against a very complicated and imprecise set of rules and regulations. This is what made the scam believable. But it also means that the company YouTube is basically holding all those small content creation companies hostage.
It is hard to really understand the amount of power that platform provider company has over those other companies. One is tempted to see them as a sort of landlord. And yes, any small company renting an office somewhere could be evicted by their landlord; the difference is that such a company could probably easily find another office in another building to rent from somebody else. If your "landlord" YouTube is evicting you, not only will it be nearly impossible to find an equivalent alternative for your content; but your "landlord" basically controls all of your customers, and you can't take them with you to the new location.