<videovortex> Thesis of Minke Kampman on YouParticipate: the politics of YouTube’s flagging system

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Sat Sep 5 21:31:13 CEST 2009


YouParticipate: the politics of YouTube’s flagging system
Minke Kampman | 04 September 2009, 7:39 pm | tags: flagging, Henry  
Jenkins, moderation, participation, user-controlled content, youtube
My thesis is about a seemingly small detail of YouTube’s interface,  
the ‘flag’ button. I got intrigued by this function because of the  
politics that are at play behind it, hence the title “YouPartipate:  
the politics of YouTube’s flagging system” [there is a .pdf...] . The  
function is not exclusive to YouTube, but it is one of the more self- 
reflexive platforms. In the sense that the YouTube community talks  
quite frequently about changes in the platform, software, interface  
etc. or what they like to see changed. Most of the time this is the  
only way for the community to comment on the rest of the community and/ 
or YouTube. Flagging gives the community a tool to participate in  
regulating the content. If a community member thinks a certain video  
is inappropriate, he/she can flag it for the YouTube team to have a  
look at. This sounds quite straightforward and shows how convergence  
culture, as described by Henry Jenkins, presents itself in the  
flagging system on YouTube. The user is enabled by the company to have  
a certain amount of control (corporate convergence).

But one might argue that this sense of control is false, for YouTube  
has the last say in the matter. Why ask the community to go around and  
flag videos, when YouTube will decide whether they did a good job? To  
avoid misuse, YouTube does not get too much into the details of back- 
end of the flagging system. But trying to deconstruct this, shows that  
certain flagging categories seem to have a higher priority over  
others. It also shows that there is a certain hierarchy amongst the  
flag-checkers at YouTube, with three Google persons at the top of  
this. This lack of transparency in the actual workings of flagging  
causes (part of) the community to take matters in their own hands and  
they started to misuse the system. Videos flagged for copyright were  
muted faster than videos flagged for spam, so people started to flag  
for this reason. And soon the flagging wars begun. In which flaggers  
did not target a certain video per se, but a certain side in  
discussions ( such as pro vs anti scientology / islam / US etc.) The  
community started to use the flagging tool differently from what it  
initially was meant for, this appropriation of the tool can be  
interpreted as grassroots convergence.

By deconstructing the flagging system in how it relates to YouTube’s  
overall model of moderation, how it is presented by the company and  
how it is both experienced and used by the community, I am giving not  
only an overview of the politics that are at play within the flagging  
system. But it also forms the beginnings of the next step of the  
grassroots convergence that is taking place at YouTube, in which I  
disagree with Jenkins’ distinction between the concept of  
‘participation’ and ‘interactivity’. According to Jenkins  
participation is shaped by cultural and social protocols, while  
interactivity is shaped by technological protocol. By showing the  
different ways in which the YouTube community has appropriated the  
flagging system, I show the possibilities that technological protocol  
entails for participation. By analyzing the various issues and demands  
from the YouTube community and proposing a reputation model in  
addition to some changes in the flagging system, which is based on  
existing systems that experience the same type of issues.

The whole thesis can be read online here:


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