'YouTubers unite': collective action by YouTube content creators

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  • Valentin Niebler
Over the past decade, YouTube has established itself as the largest video sharing platform in the world (Stokel-Walker, 2019a). The Google-owned company has become not only a widely used hub for amateur broadcasting, but also a work site for over 100,000 professional ‘YouTubers’, who earn an income through the publication of videos (Funk, 2020). While YouTube was hailed as an emancipatory hub for a user-generated ‘participatory culture’ (Jenkins, 2006) in its first decade, in recent years the platform has also been the scene of conflicts and power struggles (Kumar, 2019). Controversies include the platform’s algorithmic recommendation engine – which, to maximise engagement, tends to steer users towards extremist and misinformation channels – streamlining of content and precarious working conditions for creators (Kumar 2019; Ribeiro et al., 2019). In the teeth of these developments, which culminated in a conflict on the platform in 2017, YouTube content creators and users formed a so-called YouTubers Union (YTU), in order to collectively challenge the platform’s governance decisions. This development represents a first major instance of collective action in the remote platform economy, where workers are usually dispersed geographically and face high hurdles if they want to organise. After some initial success through a self-organising process, the YouTubers Union teamed up with the German trade union IG Metall and launched a joint campaign against YouTube.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)223-227
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 05.2020