YouTube rejects about 78% of appeals to get removed videos put back up

YouTube reinstated only 23,471 videos in the last three months of 2019 after creators appealed. It removed 5.9 million.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

The YouTube logo on display in the lobby of YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno, Calif.


Google's latest transparency report, released Friday, confirmed what many YouTubers have known in their gut for years: It's pretty hard getting your video put back up after YouTube pulls it down. Data on appeals and reinstatements in the last three months of last year suggests a 78% failure rate for appeals. 

YouTube reported that 5.9 million videos were pulled off its platform for community-guideline violations in the fourth quarter of last year. By comparison, a tiny sliver -- equating to 1.9% of the period's removed videos -- were the subject of appeals to have YouTube reconsider. And only 23,471 appeals were successful in the fourth quarter. 

Videos reinstated in the fourth quarter may reflect appeals and removals that occurred in earlier periods. But the single quarter of appeals and reinstatement data provided by YouTube suggests a 78% failure rate for appeals. 

The opaque appeals process on YouTube, which has 2 billion monthly users, is a persistent complaint from creators. A YouTubers Union campaign is even specifically calling for YouTube to set up an appeals process to be overseen by a third-party council. Friday's transparency report included the appeals data -- though only for a single quarter last year -- for the first time, a step toward more transparency around appeals statistics.  

Yet at the same time, YouTube also faces complaints that it isn't proficient enough at removing videos that need to be taken down. 

Watch this: YouTube's machine learning can't keep up with its promises (The Daily Charge, 9/9/2019)

Earlier this month, the father of a journalist who was killed during a live broadcast filed a federal complaint against YouTube, alleging that the company is failing to take down videos depicting her murder. The complaint, filed with the Federal Trade Commission, said the victim's family has been met with "empty promises and outright lies" from YouTube. YouTube has responded that it prohibits videos aiming to shock with violence or accuse victims of being part of a hoax, that it rigorously enforces these policies and that it has removed thousands of copies of this video.

Among the other trends in the video removal data: 

  • YouTube is removing fewer videos lately. YouTube had a sharp drop in removals in the last three months of 2019, compared with any other period since late 2017. Video removals dropped 32% compared with both the year-earlier and quarter-earlier period, which was the biggest change (in either direction) of any period in the data. 
  • Videos removed because of children's safety spiked at the end of last year. The percentage of videos removed for violating children's safety guidelines jumped in the last three months of 2019. In the fourth quarter, they jumped to 15.8%, after child safety removals ranged from 8.4% to 9.7% of all videos that were taken down in every other reported period. YouTube takes down videos for children's safety when it endangers the emotional and physical well-being of minors. The time that child-safety removals jumped coincided with the period that YouTube started strengthening its rules around videos that are aimed at children viewers, part of a deal to settle allegations that it violated kids' privacy in how it targeted them with ads. 
  • Spam is the No. 1 reason that YouTube removes videos, but that's steadily decreasing. The percentage of spammy and misleading videos that YouTube has been taking down is progressively dropping, from a high of 72.2% of removals in September 2018 to just 52% of removals at the end of last year. 
  • YouTube suddenly started pulling down many more violent and graphic videos in the middle of last year. While spammy video removals are dropping, the percentage of violent and graphic videos removed by YouTube has climbed, especially in the last half of 2019. The percent of violent/graphic video removals was in the low single digits for most quarters leading up to the middle of last year, but then spiked to 15.5% of removals in the third quarter. That percentage cooled a bit but stayed elevated in the fourth quarter at 9.8% of removals. 

YouTube didn't respond to a message seeking comment about these trends. 

Originally published Feb. 28, 9:37 a.m. PT. 
Update,1:46 p.m. PT: Adds more YouTube removal trends.