Let’s say that you decide your institution should take the leap and start a YouTube channel. To make this happen, you’ll want to get buy-in from all kinds of folks, and in the process of getting it, you’ll probably end up answering a lot of questions from everyone: leadership, staff, the board, and the public. Likely, you probably have some questions of your own, too!
I can’t predict all of the questions you might get — but based on what’s happened with YouTube in the past, I can give you an idea of what to expect, as well as some answers to point you in the right direction. So let’s go down the list.
1. What if our video plays before/after a video that has harmful content, or content we don’t otherwise want to expose our patrons to?
The simplest fix is to not send people to YouTube to watch your videos, and rather upload them to YouTube as “unlisted” (and therefore unfindable through YouTube’s search), embed them on your institution’s site, and point people there instead. When you embed a video, you have the option to turn autoplay off so that once the video is over, nothing starts playing immediately afterward. You can also set embedded videos to only recommend other videos on your channel, rather than from anywhere.
It’s worth mentioning though that since 1) YouTube (the business) has a vested interest in bringing people to watch videos on their platform, and 2) getting in hot water for promoting conspiracy theories and misleading information is bad for business, then 3) it behooves YouTube to deal with this, which they’ve been doing. This helps reduce the chance that your videos will be shown adjacent to questionable material, but you can avoid it even more by not making videos related to questionable content. It’s very unlikely that a video about Cat in the Hat will lead to deep state conspiracy theory videos as recommended viewing.
It has to be an iterative process, but one step that YouTube has taken to mitigate this further is to prioritize videos from vetted channels like news agencies when someone searches for something that’s a likely target for misinformation: hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other time-sensitive topics. Videos from less reliable sources are sent lower in the search results.
I don’t know if the video recommendation system does the same thing, but I’m hopeful that it does. Just keep in mind that, as with anything that’s algorithmically driven, garbage in, garbage out. People who seek out conspiracy content are going to be identified as people who want to see it, and will be shown more accordingly.
2. What if an ad airs before/during/after our video that condones something we don’t like/support?
In the same vein as above, one might be worried about what kinds of ads are shown on a person’s YouTube videos. Fortunately, this has a much simpler fix: you can opt out of showing ads on your videos. Generally, people who upload videos to YouTube show ads on their videos because they want access to advertising revenue — but it’s by no means required.
If for some reason you decide that you do want to run ads on your channel (let’s say your channel gets big enough for that to happen, and your institution decides that the extra income is worth seeking, although I feel like this is highly unlikely), you can always blacklist ads from different entities. See this video for more context, and this video for instructions on how to blacklist them.
(And incidentally, this cuts both ways — YouTube also has to figure out how to keep advertisers happy by not putting their ads next to gross things. See Hank’s take on it.)
3. What if we post something that goes viral for the wrong reasons?
This is highly unlikely because such a small percentage of online video content goes viral, ever. But to prevent it from happening, just be sure to do due diligence. Have someone else (ideally from a different background or demographic from you) look over content before it goes up so that you get more than one pair of eyes on it, so that you don’t end up posting something that’s totally innocuous to one group but anything but to another.
And if you’re a person in a position of power over someone who’s doing the video, and this happens, be forgiving. Honest mistakes happen — and let’s be honest, people who end up doing social media aren’t really compensated fairly considering how time- and labor-intensive their work is, not to mention how vital it is that it gets done right.
4. What if someone posts something harmful in the comments?
A few options here.
- Delete the comment. You’re under no obligation to let something harmful remain posted, and if you have a social media policy prepared in advance that outlines what is or isn’t acceptable behavior (which can be easily mirrored from whatever policy the library already has regarding behavior at in-person events), you can point people to that.
- Set comments to be posted only after being reviewed. If you post something that you expect will get a lot of negative or controversial views, or you find the channel getting swamped by rude comments, you can make it so that every comment that someone posts has to be reviewed by you or your team before it’s visible to others.
- Disable comments altogether. In a way, this is very much a nuclear option because it prevents folks from engaging with the material that you post (something that you’re likely to want to promote, since we’re talking about how we can use YouTube to get patrons to engage with the library), but it’s always on the table. If it gets to the point that videos are getting more negative than positive feedback, and you’re worried about how that will impact the library’s reputation (or more importantly, the mental health of the person who’s in charge of the channel), then turn commenting off for a video. At the end of the day, there are other ways to use online video to encourage engagement with the library than through comments.
5. What if we post a video, only to find out we got something wrong?
Own it! There are a bunch of ways to do this, but it’s important to do own mistakes, because it shows a degree of responsibility. Everyone gets something wrong at some point, and that’s okay.
If people are likely to see the video on YouTube itself, you have a few options:
- Write something in a video’s description acknowledging the mistake, and giving the right information.
- Write a comment on a video and “pin” it on the video, which makes it so that it’s the first comment that anyone sees when they scroll down to the video’s comments. Better yet, if someone else corrected you in a comment (in a respectful way), you can pin their comment instead, which shows that your institution is willing to recognize when it missed something and highlight others’ voices.
If your video resides on your institution’s website, you can always make a note there like you would above. Just be sure to add a timestamp to any correction comments so that it doesn’t look like you’re trying to go back and hide something.
Alternately, this is a great opportunity to make a new video that’s basically a “mea culpa.” You can take the opportunity to explain what you got wrong, why, and how, and then refer people to other resources that might have gotten it right! This is probably the most humanizing response, but it might also be the most labor intensive.
6. What if our channel becomes the target of a negative campaign?
You can always lock it down for a while. Turn off comments and people’s ability to like/dislike a video, but otherwise, it’s ultimately no big deal. If the channel becomes the target of repeated harassment by a user, you can always report hateful comments to YouTube and block specific users from commenting on your videos.
7. What if we get hacked?
See this link. Also important, make sure that anyone who has access to the YouTube channel has the opportunity to learn how to prevent others from getting access when they shouldn’t. Depending on the size of your municipality, you should be able to reach out to their information technology department and get online training for employees on basic network security.
The short version is, never send passwords and usernames through the email, and never open up attachments from anyone unless you know that they should be sending you something. If you aren’t sure, call them or talk to them in person first to confirm that they are the ones who sent it.
8. What if we partner with someone, and then they do something controversial?
See #5. Keep in mind that online, things can look more controversial than they are because of the internet’s ability to amplify any voice. An appropriate reaction ultimately has to be decided by each institution based on a given situation, and that means doing more due diligence after something happens.Possibly the trickiest part here from the LIS perspective is making sure that any steps taken don’t look like censorship.
9. What if patrons come to us about privacy concerns?
What a great opportunity to help your community learn about information literacy! But the shorter answer is, you can refer to my previous post about analytics to learn more about what information YouTube makes available to people who run channels, and use this to help explain that the library can’t collect a whole lot of information about individual users, only users in aggregate.