How The Youtube Algorithm Works, And Why It Needs Fixing

By Molly West

We all know the video-sharing site that is Youtube. If you’re thirteen or younger, you have never lived in a world without it. Originally meant to be a dating site, Youtube ended up switching paths and becoming the world’s largest video site. After some time, creators that were big enough ended up being paid for the ads that play during their videos. This is called monetization, and the money they receive is referred to as ad revenue. Because of this, it became possible for Youtubers to create a career out of the videos they make.

In 2012, however, the algorithm changed. Originally, videos were promoted based on the number of views on a video. It was around late 2012 when Youtube changed its algorithm to instead favor watch time. Longer videos became more likely to pop up on the front page or in someone’s suggested. Later on, in 2017, this would end up becoming a part of Youtube’s attempt to become a more professional service that tries to replace TV, like Netflix or Hulu.

Some creators, especially music creators, suffered from this update. A specific genre of videos managed to thrive, though: gaming. Gaming videos were some of the longest videos of the time, some of them being as long as an hour. Because of this, gamers quickly dominated the Youtube playing field. Creators such as Mark “Markiplier” Fischbach, Felix “Pewdiepie” Kjellberg, and Sean “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin had an advantage, the algorithm was on their side. New gamers were popping up on Youtube on a daily basis. Life for the average Youtube gamer seemed good-for a while, at least.

Youtube took another turn for the worse in 2017. As if the algorithm wasn’t harmful enough, the harshness of its systems intensified around this time. It all started because creator Felix Kjellberg, more commonly known as Pewdiepie, uploaded a video that contained harmful content. Though he apologized, the backlash was intense, as he was partnered with Disney’s Maker Studios and was working on original Youtube Red content. The consequences of his actions caused a ripple effect that affected the entire Youtube community.

Advertisers were scared away from the platform, causing general ad revenue to go down. For some creators, it got bad enough that their job as a Youtuber was no longer enough to provide for their basic living needs. Some smaller creators had to turn to platforms like Patreon, or even quit Youtube entirely. Twitch has also become a popular alternative, especially for gamers.

This is not the only problem, though. One thing Youtube is trying to do is teach machines. Thousands of videos are uploaded daily, and it is impossible for every one of them to be checked by a human. Because of this, they are trying to use machines to check whether or not a video is “advertiser-friendly.” However, since the machine has yet to be perfected, videos are often demonetized for no apparent reason. This is also one of the major causes of suffering for creators on the platform.

“With all the rampant demonetization going on, gaming seems to have taken a huge drop in my experience, and random videos just don’t get recommended or sent to people anymore without any warning or reason,” says popular Youtube creator Jacksepticeye on Twitter. “Not only that, but no one really seems to know what’s going on with the algorithm anymore, which leads to Youtubers just uploading all sorts of random stuff to see what sticks or trends next. It’s like the Wild West with everyone just out for themselves.

“There’s a far stronger emphasis on ‘get rich quick’ with Youtube now than ever before,” he continues. “It’s always kind of been there, but it’s slowly getting worse. I miss the sincerity and passion in people who created videos for Youtube; that was the whole reason I started.”

The hard truth of the matter is that the Youtube algorithm is broken -or, more kindly phrased- a work in progress. It punishes its creators due to faults in its code. The monetization system is not the only problem. Some YouTubers have seemingly vanished overnight. Even if you are subscribed to a channel, there is a decent chance that their videos will not appear in your subscription box. Because of this, YouTubers have to practically beg their viewers to turn on notifications and like their videos. Though creators do not want to do this, they are forced to, or else their views will drop dramatically due to subscribers not seeing their videos.

Before, being an online video creator seemed like a plausible career choice. In fact, it became the dream of many young, innovate kids. Now, however, the system has changed so that beginning on the platform is impossible. Many creators, even the larger ones who do not have to worry as much about the changes, have spoken against Youtube for the way it works. Some have even begun to move platforms due to the inconvenience of Youtube’s system and all of the glitches it holds. Little efforts to listen to its creators have been made. To some, it seems like Youtube favors money more than the creators who made Youtube what it is today.

However, they seem a bit more open to working on change now, especially after an incident in January of this year when Youtuber Logan Paul got away with uploading a video of a dead body. This caused an outrage, and Youtube now seems to be taking more steps to fix their monetization system.

All that creators and fans can hope for is that they will work out the kinks in their system soon so that Youtube can become a better platform for all people. For now, though, people must find a way to work around the system.


Kain, Erik. “YouTube Wants Content Creators To Appeal Demonetization, But It’s Not Always That Easy.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 Sept. 2017, 6 March 2018,