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YouTube increases enforcement of "fake engagement" links policy

YouTube prohibits using or promoting services that artificially inflate subscriber count, views or other engagement metrics. They may enforce that policy by removing links from video descriptions, removing videos and issuing Community Guidelines strikes. This week a number of creators received warnings that they had violated the policy and links were being removed.

What is "fake engagement"? It's the opposite of "legitimate engagement":
We consider engagement to be legitimate when a human user’s primary intent is to interact with content free of coercion or deception.
And YouTube's "Spam, Deceptive Practices, and Scams" policy prohibits "Incentivization Spam":
Content that sells engagement metrics such as views, likes, comments, or any other metric on YouTube. This also includes content where the only purpose is to boost subscribers, views, or other metrics (e.g., “sub4sub” content).
It also has always been the case that you aren't allowed to use contests to manipulate engagement metrics:
You and any third party may not manipulate metrics on the YouTube service, including numbers of views, likes, dislikes, or subscribers, such that those metrics fail to reflect genuine user engagement with the YouTube service.

What does that mean in practical terms?

  • You are not allowed to participate in "sub4sub" exchanges
  • You are not allowed to purchase views or subscribers
  • You are not allowed to run promotions or contests that require users to subscribe, like or view your videos
  • You are not allowed to post a video promoting any such services 
  • You are not allowed to link to any such service in your video 
  • You are not allowed to try to trick viewers into watching a video by using misleadingly labeled info cards, thumbnails, titles or descriptions
You are allowed to ask your viewers to subscribe, share and comment.

On January 15th YouTube announced that they would be more strictly enforcing the policy around links to external websites the violate the Community Guidelines. That includes any links to content that violates YouTube's "fake engagement" policies.

YouTube will remove any such links from your video descriptions.

As an example of what is not allowed, a number of creators promoting their channel with Gleam (gleam.io) contests have been notified that the link was removed from their video description for violating YouTube "spams, scams and other deceptive practices" policy. Gleam seems to follow the letter of the policies - not actually forcing users to subscribe, just sending them to the subscribe page - but without following the spirit of the policies. It looks to me like users are likely to believe they must actually subscribe to the channel to enter the sweepstakes or contest, so that artificially boosts subscriber count.

While users are currently getting a warning, the original announcement included a two month grace period where violations will not result in Community Guidelines strikes. That ends on March 15th, so be sure to clean up your channel's links. If you believe your channel has incorrectly received a Community Guidelines strike, you can appeal.

Also note that YouTube will remove "spammy subscribers" from your channel's subscriber count. Those subscribers will continue to see your channel's videos in their subscription feed, so it should not impact your channel's views or watch time - although if they only subscribed to enter a giveaway contest, they aren't likely to be interested viewers anyway.

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