In light of the coronavirus pandemic, YouTube said in March that it was shuttering content moderation offices and would rely — temporarily — more heavily on its machine learning-based systems in order to police videos that were in violation of its Community Guidelines.
At the time, YouTube warned that creators could see an increased number of video removals, adding that it would seek to compensate by not issuing channel strikes on videos that were only flagged by its systems (that had not received human review) — except in cases where the company had “high confidence” that the content was violative. YouTube also said that appeals would take longer due to decreased staffing, and noted that it would be more cautious about what kind of content gets promoted in searches, on the homepage, and through recommendations.
Now, data provided by YouTube bears out the scope of these fluctuations, with the video giant confirming that it took down the most videos ever in a single quarter — to the tune of 11.4 million total video removals. That’s roughly twice as many videos as last quarter, when YouTube removed 6.1 million videos, per its most recent Community Guidelines Enforcement Report, which is released every quarter to provide transparency around YouTube’s moderation activities.
“When reckoning with greatly reduced human review capacity due to COVID-19, we were forced to make a choice between potential under-enforcement or potential over-enforcement,” YouTube wrote in a blog post accompanying the Enforcement Report. “Because responsibility is our top priority, we chose the latter — using technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers.”
Furthermore, in what YouTube referred to as “certain sensitive policy areas” — violent extremist content and content that could jeopardize child safety (including potentially harmful dares or challenges) — the takedown increases were the most drastic, with YouTube confirming it removed three times as many of these videos in Q2 compared with Q1.
The increased removals also resulted in a roughly double the number of appeals — up 325,000 from 166,000 last quarter, according to the report. The number of videos reinstated after appeal also quadrupled — from 41,000 to 161,000.
That said, the number of channels removed this quarter stayed relatively flat over last quarter — with roughly 2 million channels being removed for Community Guidelines violations in both Q1 and Q2. But the number of comments removed for violations tripled in Q2, when YouTube removed 2.1 billion comments — a substantial increase over the 694 million comments that YouTube removed in Q1.
Protocol reports competitor Facebook recently shared similar data — having sent many of its content moderators home amid the pandemic — though the company took a strikingly different approach than YouTube. If YouTube opted to err on the side of over-enforcement, Facebook apparently sought to err on the side of removing less content. Facebook and Instagram both saw steep declines in content removals last quarter, per Protocol, with content removed for child sexual abuse dropping by almost a half and removals of suicide-related content dropping by 79%
You can check out YouTube’s most recent Transparency Report right here.