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New research suggests regulation could actually enhance user-creativity on the platform giants

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Video-sharing platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and TikTok provide a free space for everyone to share their content. They claim they have developed an ideal place for user creativity because they sidestep traditional gatekeepers, lower the entry barriers for creators, provide how-to guides and connect creators directly with consumers. Based on such arguments, the platform giants and their advocates emphasise their pro-creative credentials and suggest stronger regulation imposed on them would restrict creativity.

Our new research, YouTube Creativity and the Regulator’s Dilemma: an Assessment Of Factors Shaping Creative Production on video-sharing Platforms, highlights the anti-creativity factors that policymakers need to be aware of that exist on video-sharing platforms, and how emerging regulation interacts with these factors.

Since 2018, the UK government has issued a series of reports focused on online harms, and anti-competitive issues. These reports indicate a trend of imposing stronger regulation on the platform giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. The EU legislative proposals of The Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA) also increase the liability on platforms.

In this context, policymakers need to understand both the positive and negative impacts of the emerging regulations on user creativity. The platforms and their advocators emphasise that regulation could restrict user creativity, but they fail to mention that the platforms themselves have an anti-creative side. Our new research highlights to policymakers five psychological and seven economic characteristics of the platforms that might discourage user creativity.

Key findings

The research identifies five psychological factors and seven economic factors on platforms such as YouTube, which might discourage creativity. Some key factors include;

External Motivations. Psychological studies (Amabile et al., 1986) (Cooper et al., 1999) (Cameron and Pierce 1994) indicate that intrinsic motivations such as interests and curiosity encourage creativity while extrinsic motivations like monetary rewards and external attention might reduce creativity. Video sharing platforms such as YouTube have developed a system that motivates creators through attention and money rewards. YouTube uses the attention (e.g. click through rate and watch time) to evaluate channel performance and directly links the attention captured by a channel with the monetary rewards). In this extrinsic-motivation-driven system, creators tend to focus more on the external attention instead of the quality and creativity of videos they are making.

Overly-sharp, negative feedback can kill creativity. Studies indicate that 18%-16% to 28% of the comments posted on YouTube are offensive, insulting or spam. This environment might negatively impact creativity.

Uncertainty of video-making and homogeneity. No one can be certain whether a cultural product will sell well in the market. To avoid this uncertainty, creators tend to mimic previous successful cultural products, which leads to product homogeneity. Likewise, YouTube creators do not know whether their videos will go viral before uploaded, therefore, the safest way to create popular videos is to adopt the content or styles similar to existing popular videos. This might lead to video homogeneity and reduce creativity. In addition, the YouTube recommendation algorithm might reinforce the trend because the algorithm also relies substantially on ‘historical watch’ and search data to rank and display videos.

Our research highlights some platform regulation that might counteract these ‘anti-creative factors’, which could benefit creators using channels such as YouTube.

Article 17 of the Copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market (CDSM) imposes stricter copyright liability on platforms such as YouTube. It would, in practice, require them to develop an automatic filter to scan all user-generated content and flag the content containing copyrighted works to the copyright holders. This filter could directly connect online creators with the copyright holder saving the creators a great deal of time and energy, and therefore support creative output.

The UK Government Online Harms White Paper (2020) set up the duty of care, which makes giant platforms liable for harmful user-generated content. The legislative proposal of The Digital Services Act (EU) also requests very large online platforms conduct ex-ante risk assessments on the systemic harms of platforms. Under the pressure of these legislative initiatives, the platform giants might efficiently remove overly negative or insulting comments online and therefore develop a healthy environment for creators.

The ‘recommendation algorithm’ might amplify some anti-creative factors on platforms. For example, the one used by YouTube tends to promote content similar to previous viral videos, which leads to the homogeneity of video making. In this situation, AI regulations such as Articles 17, 21 and 22 of The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might offset the impacts of the algorithm. This is because these articles guarantee the viewers’ right to reject the recommendation algorithm. This could push platforms to incorporate greater diversity into the design of the algorithms.

Competition law might benefit most creators in the long term by offsetting the dominant power of giant platforms such as YouTube. This will encourage the generation of new platforms and new services and therefore provide more options to creators.

In conclusion we suggest it’s vital policymakers bear in mind that regulation that discourages creativity in one aspect could simultaneously encourage it in another. The impact of regulation over user creativity on video-sharing platforms is often two-sided, which policymakers need to keep in mind as they propose new regulations.

This blog is based on a paper by PEC researcher Dr Xiaoren Wang from CREATe, University of Glasgow, published in the journal the Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2022.

The views expressed in guest blogs for the PEC website are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre.

Image by Ron Lach via Pexels

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