YouTube’s trending tab, which collects the most watched videos on the platform at a given moment, has been a notorious struggle for the platform’s top creators since it launched in 2015. In the wake of popular influencer Logan Paul’s disturbing video, which featured the body of a man who appears to have recently committed suicide, creators are calling for more transparency over how videos make it onto the list.
Creators have accused YouTube for years of rigging the trending tab to include paid advertisements — like a commercial for H&M — and NFL highlight reels that gain a measly 80,000 views in the course of 12 or so hours. 80,000 views in 12 hours may seem like a big deal, but compared to some of the most-watched creators on YouTube, it’s peanuts.
When YouTube confirmed to Polygon last year that brands, whitelisted creators who are considered top-tier and are consistently advertiser friendly, were given a level of exemption from being flagged, the YouTube community wanted to know how far those partnerships went. YouTube commentators demanded to know how this could impact the trending section; was it manually curated at times? And if so, who was deciding what should be on the list?
In the wake of Paul’s controversial video, which reached number 10 on the trending list worldwide before the video was taken down by his own team, those questions have resurfaced. The issue that many YouTubers have, including Keemstar, the platform’s most vocal critic, is the lack of transparency creators have over how anything works. Paul’s video was added to the trending list and added as a recommendation for many YouTube users, causing Keemstar, critic Philip DeFranco and commentator Pyrocynical to ask, “Where’s the oversight?”
YouTube’s own guidelines for what appears in the trending tab note that “misleading, clickbaity or sensational” videos can be excluded. Ideally trending videos should “capture the breadth of what’s happening on YouTube and in the world.” Videos are supposed to appeal to a wide range of audiences, which may be why late night show segments are routinely placed on the trending page. Most importantly, YouTube says this on the trending page’s FAQ:
YouTube does not accept payment for placement on Trending. We do not include views from YouTube ads in selecting videos for Trending. YouTube does not favor specific creators.
YouTube has never explicitly stated whether or not the trending tab is curated, but the company’s FAQ refers to an algorithmic system that “tries to choose videos that will be most relevant to our viewers and most reflective of the broad content on the platform.” Polygon has reached out to YouTube for further clarification.
With everything we know about YouTube, and about the videos that appear in the tab the company wants to promote on its site, creators are getting antsy by being left in the dark over how Paul’s video ended up in the trending tab for so long. In a 22-minute video, DeFranco said “part of the Logan Paul problem is also the YouTube problem,” diving into the problematic existence of the video on a page YouTube promotes on its homepage.
“Part of the reason Logan Paul’s video received so many views is it was top-trending on YouTube,” DeFranco said. “A video that featured a dead person in the thumbnail with footage of an actual dead person in the video; it was top trending and being promoted by YouTube. We’re not talking about a video and creator that just somehow went under the radar. We’re talking about the biggest creator on YouTube posting a video that had over six million views, was trending on YouTube, that no doubt had to be flagged by tons of people.
“The only reason it was taken down is Logan or his team took it down, and YouTube didn’t do a damn thing; part of the Logan Paul problem is that YouTube is either complicit or ignorant.”
It’s YouTube’s response to Paul’s original video that creators are saying proves DeFranco’s point. Pyrocynical, a popular YouTuber with more than two million subscribers, pointed out that re-uploads of Paul’s original video also ended up trending worldwide, while commentators’ critiques were taken down quickly by YouTube. Pyrocynical points out that a member of YouTube’s trusted flagger program, who Polygon also spoke to, reported that YouTube’s safety team saw the flags for the video and ignored it.
Logan Paul's video was reported and YouTube manually reviewed it; they decided to leave it up without even an age restriction... people who have re-uploaded it since have received strikes for graphic content. Ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/Hj9lyiQwE2— Ben (@TrustedFlagger) January 2, 2018
On Twitter, Ben wrote that YouTube may have taken an aggressive tactic to taking down any video with Logan Paul metadata tags as a precautionary attempt to stop the problem. But even that was met with concern from the creator community, especially when re-uploaded versions of the original video continued to appear on the trending page worldwide.
Even though Paul’s video was deemed sensational and violated YouTub’e policy, it remained active in the trending tab for hours.
My vid today (Criticizing Logan Paul) has been completely knock out of the sub boxes, recommend & some search results , because it was falsely taken down by YouTube not once but Twice!— KEEM (@KEEMSTAR) January 4, 2018
But REUPLOADS of Logan Paul’s Suicide Forrest are on the trending page across the world! pic.twitter.com/w8kNG4snmv
Although the trending section has become something of a joke for the platform’s most prolific creators, the inclusion of Paul’s disturbing video and the length of time it remained on the site before Paul’s team took it down, is causing people to question whether it’s harmful.
Ethan Klein of H3H3 published a video on Nov. 29, 2016 in which he coined the term “paid promotions tab.” Klein pointed out in the video that four of the top spots in the trending section were actual, legitimate advertisements that paid YouTube to be on the platform. This, in combination with consistent promotions for shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Tonight Show, led Klein to believe that YouTube was being dishonest about how it promotes videos in its trending tab. Klein argued that, contrary to what YouTube’s FAQ said, the company showed preference for certain creators.
Toward the end of the video, Klein says something that is ringing true with creators across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube today.
“Let’s just cut with the trending bullshit and stop lying to people,” Klein said. “I wish they would just explain what they’re doing. Just tell us — what do you want? What are you doing?”
Polygon has asked for comment on the trending section and will update if more information becomes available.