2017 was a wild year for YouTube. It continued to extend its dominance as the world’s biggest video platform: in June it announced that 1.5 billion people now log in each month, a user base second only to Facebook’s and one that can earn successful creators a substantial windfall.
But in terms of its public image, 2017 was also the worst year YouTube has ever had. It began with the downfall of the platform’s biggest star, PewDiePie. After a Wall Street Journal report about his use of Nazi imagery and anti-semitic humor, the Swedish vlogger lost his deal with Disney and YouTube cancelled his original series. Just one month later, big brands threatened a full scale boycott of YouTube after learning that their advertising was being played alongside racist and offensive videos.
2017 was a year of reckoning with the power and scale of online platforms. With Facebook and Google, both hauled before Congress for questioning, the main problem was disinformation. YouTube, owned by Google, has its own vibrant misinformation ecosystem, but the most difficult truth that came to light about the world’s largest video service was not its role in our politics, but in our parenting.