YouTube Deleted My Channel And Won’t Tell Me Why

by Chris Giddens | [date]

<01 – 100ksubs>

This past Father’s Day, June 20th, I bragged on social media by posting a screenshot of my “Change Before Going” YouTube channel’s recent achievement in surpassing 100,000 subscribers. Four days later, it was gone. I didn’t know why and YouTube wouldn’t tell me. After months of emails and appeals, it’s still gone. And I still don’t know why because YouTube won’t tell me.

I awoke on June 24th and read an e-mail to the Change Before Going account stating: “We have reviewed your content and found severe or repeated violations of our Community Guidelines. Because of this, we have removed your channel from YouTube.”

My stomach sunk, and I was dumbfounded wondering what I may have done to warrant this punishment. The e-mail ambiguously stated that “Spam, scams or commercially deceptive content are not allowed on YouTube.”

Still bewildered, I had no time to address what must be some algorithmic mistake as I needed to go to work where I have the privilege of fighting for the wrongly accused and overly-punished, defending our rights like due process of law, seeking justice, and advocating on behalf of those of us with the least to make sure their story is heard… Y’know, maybe I should rewind this entire thing.

Two decades ago, I co-founded Change Before Going Productions (CBGP) with friends in Georgia as an art collective who supported each other and other indie artists/business in Atlanta. With a DIY punk aesthetic, our greater-than-sum-of-parts collective was partly inspired by the Wu-Tang Clan, who formed together like Voltron. Unrelated, here’s my son & I as Wu-Tang Killa Bees at Boo at the ATL Zoo:

<02 - BooAtZoo>

On March 26th, 2009, CBGP branched out to YouTube. We first uploaded concerts, short films, and music videos, plus we documented local events ranging from Occupy Atlanta inner-city kids taken deep-sea fishing by an ATL non-profit.

The channel evolved and found its niche by focusing on restoring, rescoring, and upscaling films in the public domain. Speaking of which, please check out and support these underappreciated champions of the public domain: Prelinger Library, Internet Archive, and LibriVox. They literally protect, preserve, and provide time machines to our history.

As CBGP grew on YouTube, we took a branding/expansion lesson from The Young Turks by creating multiple sister-channels under the CBGP banner, each with a different focus. Semi-related, here’s a pic of me with TYT’s (and TCM’s) Ben Mankiewicz—thanks for the vouch to help me get into law school so that I could become a Public Defender…more on that later:

<03 - Mank>

By working on the channels almost every day for over a decade, the CBGP YouTube network went from making pennies to making a couple dollars for gas, to helping keep the heat and the lights on, to helping pay for me to return to college in my late thirties. I’m a fortunate man….more on that later.

But some of my biggest thrills with the channel arose from fellow cinephiles in schools, universities, libraries, museums, and arthouses who reached out to me either curious for additional information on specific films and filmmakers, or requesting access to a film for exhibition, or even asking me to speak before some screenings (not knowing of my irrational fear of public speaking).

These requests primarily focused on the pioneering silent films in my “Film Firsts” YouTube Playlist, which included over 100 movies that broke new ground in the art of filmmaking and the development of movie history. Among those were some innovative films by Alice Guy-Blaché, the world’s first woman filmmaker, who was recently (and at long last!) given her proper due with Pamela Green’s terrific documentary, Be Natural. I highly recommend you check out this amazing and touching testament.

I also enjoyed video-spotlighting contemporary champions of film history, including: Ben Model, arguably the preeminent silent film musician/scorer/accompanist; Tommy Jose Stathes, an educator, archivist, and living encyclopedia of early animated films; and Lea Stans, creator and columnist at my fave silent film blog, Silent-ology. I’m so thankful for their ongoing contributions to, and preservation of, the early film legacy so dear to myself and many others.

Tangentially related for any Redditors who dig this kind of silent film nerdery like I do, here’s a subReddit I created originally as an offshoot of my Film Firsts Playlist and Silent Spotlight video series, but has wonderfully grown into a life of its own beyond my expectations: Silent Cinema.

Speaking of Reddit before I finally get back to the crux of this post-mortem of sorts—i.e. that I STILL don’t know why YouTube deleted my channel and they won’t tell me—here’s another excellent sub: Uplifting News – I mention it because a few years ago I started a new YouTube series called “Giddy News” in which I very briefly summarize recent positive news stories with the simple hope of breaking all the pervasive callousness, doom, and despair.

These stories covered scientific advancements, environmental achievements, progress towards justice and equality, inspiring acts of courage and heroism, plus heartwarming tales of good deeds and charity. Many of these Giddy News stories I first discovered on Uplifting News, which I still frequent regularly (as a break from all the pervasive callousness, doom, and despair).

 

And “despair” is how I’d best describe the feeling of having a YouTube channel I’d carefully tended and cultivated for over a decade suddenly deleted without warning, and then being unable to obtain an answer as to why this was done. You tell me if I’m just blinded due to standing too close to the subject matter and thus unable to see what’s staring me in the face. Here’s the termination e-mail:

<04 – Email_01>

From this I gathered that the channel was removed for “severe or repeated violations” related to “Spam, scams or commercially deceptive content.” Can you tell from this vague description what exactly the violation was? As Devil’s Advocate, one could say, “Chris, YOU know what you did because you did it!” Well, I don’t. I reviewed the Community Guidelines on the policy and still don’t know. The channel had no strikes to give me even a clue as to what might have been the issue. So of course I appealed. I said in the appeal what I’ve already said here:

That I don’t know why my channel was removed, that it must’ve been some king of algorithmic mistake, and that I’ve carefully maintained this channel to keep it up to standard. But if there was a violation, then it was unintended and without my knowledge. That I apologize if this is the case and would like to know what the violation was so that I could prevent it from unintentionally happening again.

Here’s the response I received later that day (and I do have to give sincere kudos to YouTube staff for such a quick response):

<05 – Email_02>

So I was still in the dark, but I hadn’t given up hope. Still haven’t. Anyways, since I was a YouTube Partner at the time, I had access to e-mail support and so reached out. This is the response e-mail I received the following day (again, props to their support team for the prompt attention):

<06 – Email_03>

To be fair, this support member likely wasn’t aware I had already appealed due to my sending the e-mail so quickly. Here’s my reply:

<07 – Email_04>

And YouTube’s response:

<08 – Email_05>

Spiders? Robots?! Automated spider robots?!? Hey, at least now I was being given additional information. I gathered (but still don’t know) that there were repeated violations having something to do with “spam practices or using robots, spiders, or other automated systems to gain views, subscribers, etc.”

Now, I’m not the brightest dude. But I’m knowledgeable enough to know what is meant by robots/spiders/automation, just like I know what hacking, viruses, and car engines are, but I don’t have the skills necessary to accomplish anything related to any them. And I’m resourceful enough so that I’m sure I could hire a programmer to act on my behalf, just like I’m resourceful enough that I could hire a plumber, pest exterminator, or piano-playing prostitute…probably could find a single person to perform all these parts at once! But I haven’t.

Instead, I hustled and grinded day in and day out for over a decade to slowly but steadily grow the channel. No shortcuts, no tricks, no automated robot spiders. It was my version of a mom n’ pop store on Main Street, and I took pride with how I maintained the store front, the product and services provided, the interactions inside, and the business books in the back. I kept (and still have access to) spreadsheets which I updated every single week since 2012 with channel stats obtained from YouTube’s own analytics system: subscriber numbers, view counts, ad earnings, and the top vid of the week.

So if I’m curious about the performance for the week ending March 26th—my wedding anniversary… hi Sammie Sam, lub you!—in 2013, a quick peek tells me the CBGP channel gained 26 subscribers, putting us at a whopping 869 (nice!), we had 12,375 views that week, and our most-viewed vid was “The Devil's Castle (aka Le manoir du diable)” – a silent film from 1896 by the pioneering cinemagician, Georges Méliès. FYI this short film is considered to be the world’s first horror movie, and I mixed in a spooky new musical score with the help of my buddy, Billy Duncan. Thanks Billy!

I mention this meticulous attention to detail because I never noticed any abnormal fluctuation in the analytics that would make me suspect anything untoward or nefarious happening with the channel. There was steady, stable growth containing good weeks, bad weeks, average weeks, and great weeks such as when excellent sites like Open Culture shared our videos. Here’s the # of subs the CBGP channel had at the beginning of each year from 2012-2021, with the percentage increase over the prior year (I also included the final row for 100k subs in June):

<08b – Stats>

And these numbers in my spreadsheet were all pulled each week from YouTube’s own analytics, so it’s not like they don’t have access to this info. Anyways, my reply:

<09 – Email_06>

And YouTube’s response:

<10 – Email_07>

What the…?!? Tricking others into leaving YouTube? That’s the opposite of what I want. I’d prefer users binge watch every single one of my totally thrilling and captivating cinematic works of art and social importance, and then find two friends to do the same who each find two friends, and so on. I carefully went thru the itemized list of unallowed content to make sure I had nothing that even accidentally fell into one of those categories. Further, I applaud YouTube’s recent efforts to combat misinformation that is serious and ongoing threats to democracy and public health. But I ain’t the one.

Regardless, I understand that broad measures, especially those enforced by impersonal algorithms, may return false positives that improperly sweep up the innocent along with the guilty. So I was thankful to receive additional information, especially since it was now the weekend when I didn’t expect to hear back yet. A little bit of progress and a little bit of hope. My response to the new support rep:

<11 – Email_08>

And YouTube’s response:

<12 – Email_09>

So much for progress. And I wasn’t very pleased with the completely unhelpful “YOU know what you did” tone. But it was now Sunday, and it’s support rep #3 just trying to do their job of covering. I’ve been there. Most of us have. And I didn’t want to take it out on Number Three. My reply:

<13 – Email_10>

And YouTube’s response:

<14 – Email_11>

This is rep #4. Sounds like they’re a member of the support escalation team, which gave me a little hope. Though the response wasn’t much help in providing a clue as to why the channel was terminated, at least he was offering to help with an appeal. My reply:

<15 – Email_12>

As you can see, I entered the bargaining stage of grief. But seriously, I think these proactive assurances and reinstatement term suggestions were more-than-sufficient offerings from someone with no idea why their channel was suddenly deleted without warning and without being able to find out why from YouTube. Their response:

<16 – Email_13>

Hope!

<17 – Email_14>

Crushed:

<18 – Email_15>

That one left a mark. My reply:

<19 – Email_16>

I gotta admit, it’s kinda cringe seeing how I overly lauded myself. But I stand by it. I’m sure someday I’ll cringe at many things I’ve said in this exhortation. So be it. Regardless, YouTube’s response:

<20 – Email_17>

You can guess how the appeal turned out. Here’s my reply to the prior e-mail:

<21 – Email_18>

Not only a shareholder (approximately .0000000000000000000000001%, so basically the owner & CEO), but my household pays the monthly fee for YouTube Premium family membership. Despite everything, I’m still a fan of the product.

YouTube’s response:

<22 – Email_19>

Take a hint, Chris, right? Turns out, no, apparently I can still be as desperate as teen-me was when trying to convince an ex to give me just one more chance:

<23 – Email_20>

Probably wasn’t the reason for the termination but who knows (I sure don’t!). And YouTube’s response:

<24 – Email_21>

Me:

<25 – Email_22>

With these appeals and e-mails, I channeled all my skills from my work as a Public Defender. Yes, it’s a bit ironic that my profession entails defending others against accusations of wrongdoing and here I am claiming I’ve been falsely accused. But that’s where the similarities end because those others I defend are downtrodden much worse than anything I’ve ever faced, especially here. However, thank goodness for due process in law unlike YouTube. And thank goodness my work keeps me surrounded by inspiring co-workers who not only care deeply and inspire me daily with their truly awesome work, but who treat me better than I deserve, counteracting my imposter syndrome. Thank you, PD fam, you lift me up.

Regardless, let’s see how I fared in YouTube’s court. Here’s their response:

<26 – Email_23>

Brutal. Heartbreaking to be rejected again, but also a bit of a faceslap getting a copy-pasted response of old news with no new information, keeping me in the dark after all that time and correspondence. And I still don’t know why YouTube deleted my channel because they won’t tell me.

If you made it this far, can you tell me what fault YouTube found?  I’ve put myself out there for public scrutiny and scorn, which YouTube should be able to call me out on easily. And one would think that I wouldn’t make myself a target if I knew I’d done anything wrong.

Anyways, not many people know this (until now I guess), but depression is something I’ve dealt with for as long as I can remember. And this ordeal didn’t help. Thankfully, I have a strong support crew, much better than I deserve. For those who don’t, or anyone struggling, please know you’re not alone and there are resources out there with people who want to be there for you. One is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached 24 hours every day at 800-273-8255.

Despite my battles with despair, I still have to express my utmost gratitude for everything because I know how fortunate I truly am, and how my first-world wypipo problems are miniscule even pre-Covid, but especially now when so many have lost so much.

Ultimately, YouTube provided me with a voice and an outlet for creativity, a source of secondary income, a sense of accomplishment at contributing to the film community that I still adore, and cherished moments with friends, especially my son, captured on videos thankfully saved onto a backup hard drive. This wouldn’t have happened if not for YouTube, and so I’ll always appreciate it.

But that doesn’t remove the sense of loss, of being wronged at having something dear taken away from me, and without proper explanation. Again, such a small misfortune in the grand scheme of things within a world filled with so much pain. But it still cuts that YouTube deleted my channel. And what cuts the deepest is that I still don’t know why because YouTube won’t tell me.

Thank you for reading, sincerely,

Chris