I’m not against social media and use it myself. I try to limit the time I spend on it as well as how many platforms I engage with routinely. It’s become a necessary evil, a pleasant pastime, and a sometimes nightmare.
In md-August, I was delighted to be part of a 5-author panel discussion with a 6th author as moderator. One author recorded our Zoom session and sent me the video file for distribution. I added an intro screen, merged the two segments, and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. Of course, the next thing I did was check to make sure it uploaded and played correctly before sending the link to the other authors and my social media accounts.
Imagine my embarrassment the next morning to learn from a friend that my account was terminated.
Yes, right there in bold letters where the video had been was the message that the account was terminated. What mistake was this? How can it be? I tried to log in to YouTube, only to receive the screen that said I had violated YouTube’s Terms of Service (TOS) and I could not log in — EVER.
No Warning — Just Terminated
Well, that had to be a mistake. I’d received no warnings of any kind. In fact, I’d never received any warnings of any kind from Google or YouTube about violating community standards. Why would Google terminate my YouTube account? I know the rules and follow them. This had to be a mistake.
I dug into the TOS, help files, and anywhere else I could find information. Aha! Here’s something interesting. Google will notify you when they’ve suspended your access for TOS violations unless . . . there’s a copyright claim or violation or you are under legal investigation. Well, neither of those should apply to me.
Terms of Service (TOS)
YouTube’s TOS makes it sound as if there’s a friendly face behind its decisions, including this line from it’s enforcement link.
“Our expert reviewers then remove flagged content that violates our Community Guidelines.”
Except I could not believe an actual person reviewed my channel before it was summarily shut down. Another blanket statement I take exception to is this one:
“YouTube takes action on other flagged videos after review by trained human reviewers.”
Again, did a real person look at my channel before shutting it down? My real problem came to light when I tried to appeal YouTube’s decision. Because . . . I did not know why it was taken down. I had received nothing* from YouTube/Google even after the takedown.
Finding the correct appeal site wasn’t tooo difficult, although it was frustrating. My search revealed a lot of YouTube videos complaining about the most recent changes to YouTube’s policies, especially from YouTubers who monetize their sites. My simple site seemed like a small problem in comparison to what some of the entrepreneurs are experiencing or, in some cases, projecting as the possible outcomes of the policy changes.
My first appeal was simple. I completed the form with the basics: site terminated, only half dozen videos on it–all created with licensed software and images, and no notice so I did not know the reason. I asked for the reason.
Response #1 – Autobot
I received an autobot response on Aug 18 and another on the 19th, both asking me to be patient and wait for them to review the request to restore the disabled site. Is disabled the same as terminated?
Response #1 – Another Autobot
“We stand by our decision.”
Appeal #2, First Try
Of course I appealed again, despite the request in the YouTube site to not appeal their decisions.
Response #2, First Time
At this point, Google chose to tell me I had to wait at least 2 weeks to appeal a 2nd time. Gee, Google. Don’t you think it would be helpful, and reduce the system load–as well as the customer’s frustration–if you just put that little note in your first response?
Appeal #2, for Real
I was patient and waited until September 11 to file my 2nd appeal. Again, I stated the facts, requested to know which TOS I’d violated, and requested restoration of the account. I also, as before, specifically said this referenced my YouTube account.
Response #2, for Real
A few days later, I received a cheery email from Google stating that they’d looked at my account and there was no problem with it, so just go ahead and sign in. It included a link on how to restore your access to Gmail if needed.
DUH! My Gmail and other Google services weren’t terminated! And YouTube was still terminated.
Once again, a support site failed to READ MY COMPLAINT (that always drives me nuts). So I promptly filled out the complaint form again (this was, what, like the 4th maybe 5th form?) and used all caps to tell them to do just that, even though I also included the appeal information.
I could feel the steam pouring from my ears as I considered what to do next. Then I went into the community forum where I found others who’d had similar experiences.
A Helpful Voice in the Din
One hopeful voice within these pages was a “Google trusted” individual who had helped a few people resolve their issues. I posted my request for help and received a response within a day.
The next day, I received word from Google that my suspension had been reversed. Since when is a suspension the same as a termination? And are those the same as disabled?
Google Mixes Terminology & Emails Accounts!
Making things more difficult for the customer is that Google equates unequal terms. Gee, Google, maybe you would have fewer pi**ed off customers if you used the same language in your autobot as you do in the TOS. Just a suggestion.
Disabled/Suspension/Termination are treated as equals.
Google emails from different accounts so sorting or even finding messages can be frustrating.
YouTube, YouTube Support, YouTube Accounts, Google Support
In fact, while putting together this post, I found an 8/18/21 message from YouTube (not YouTube Accounts, not YouTube Support, not Google, not Google Support) that my account was removed for:
“severe or repeated violations of our Community Guidelines”
Remember, earlier I’d said I’ve never received any kind of messages or warnings about violating Google’s or YouTube’s community standards or guidelines. And I mean in more than 20 years I’ve had a Google account. So “repeated” wouldn’t apply here–except that the lack of consistent use of terms means what they say might not match what I think.
But this left me wondering what “severe” violation might have occurred. And the only thing that stayed in my mind was that the takedown happened the very day that I’d posted the panel video. (Wait, there’s more coming near the end of this post.)
*Today (10/1/21) was the first time I actually saw the original message from YouTube. It would have been easier if all these messages came from the same account, but they didn’t. In fact, this was the only one that came from simply YouTube, and it had gotten buried with a batch of other messages from that day.
Another fail by Google.
The End Result?
After weeks of questions, frustrations, and appeals, on 9/12/21 I received an email from Google that they had re-reviewed my account and found no violation.
Therefore, we have unsuspended your account.
Yes, my terminated account was now unsuspended.
Imagine my surprise when, on 9/28/21, I received another Google email.
Hi Claire A. Murray,
Good news! The copyright claim on your video was released.
Video title: “Dec 2020 Year in Review”
– The YouTube Team
I guess I’m supposed to jump up and down with joy. After all, I’ve been in limbo for only 6 weeks over supposedly violating some community standard and finally learn that someone (or some algorithm) had claimed a copyright violation on one video. Had a real person actually viewed it 6 weeks earlier, they would have easily seen my photo in it, matched it to my profile photo, and known there was no copyright violation. Instead, they let automated systems (I’d hate to think that real people were that careless with the copyright claim) do their work and put my site in limbo.
Here’s where you can view the “offending” video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TprJj4XPOtM
Thankfully, I have my website which includes this blog. I continued forward. My whole world wasn’t taken down, but that’s only because I have other outlets including one I control.
Google is Not Alone . . . Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. can Behave the Same
I’m not singling out Google as the bad actor in the social media world. I’ve merely used this one experience to demonstrate how our efforts to connect with readers, be consistent and professional, and market ourselves as authors or other creatives can be thwarted by the very platforms that were designed to help us accomplish that.
If you take nothing else away from reading this, I hope it’s the lesson that you need a platform from which you control the content and that would not be taken down because an autobot or algorithm deemed you’d done something unwarranted. Because then you have long road to recovering your media or other data and sometimes you may not get it back.
While fine tuning links and resources for this post, I found this helpful article that puts major portions of the YouTube TOS in simple English, broken down by each portion of the TOS.