YouTubers also worried that the change would affect their view counts. Verification can impact a YouTuber’s placement in search results and losing it could make it hard for fans to identify the YouTuber’s authentic channel. Losing a checkmark, and the cachet that comes along with it, can also affect the way brands perceive a YouTuber. “I used my verification to set myself aside from everyone else. This could impact my business,” Ms. Jones said. “Either people won’t think I’m legitimate or they won’t see me in the light they saw before. It will definitely affect my brand deals.”
YouTube said part of the reason it unverified so many creators was to make it easier for users to root out impostors. “Our new criteria prioritizes verifying prominent channels that have a clear need for proof of authenticity. We look at a number of factors to determine if a channel meets this criteria,” a blog post announcing the change reads. Before the change, any channel with more than 100,000 subscribers could apply for verification. Now, the channel must not only belong to the real creator, artist, public figure or company it claims to represent, but it must also represent a well-known creator, artist, public figure or company that is “widely recognized” outside of YouTube or has a strong presence online.
Creators interpreted this as just another sign of YouTube seeking to become more corporate and abandoning its roots. “If you’ve been watching YouTube lately, you can see,” said Luke Meagher, a 22-year-old YouTuber with 270,000 subscribers who was informed he would be losing verification, “the trending page went from all influencers to Jimmy Fallon, Vevo, professional music videos.”
YouTube is far from the only tech platform grappling with how to manage verification. Twitter, after introducing a public verification request form in 2016, later yanked it in 2017. The company publicly claimed to put verification on pause, but still continued to quietly verify users. Instagram also introduced a public verification-request form in 2018.
Still, most users don’t understand what a checkmark actually conveys. According to YouTube, 30 percent of YouTube users misunderstand the meaning of a checkmark, associating it with an endorsement of content, not an indicator of identity.
Jason Urgo, founder and chief executive of SocialBlade, a social media analytics company, said that YouTube’s changes weren’t as drastic as they might seem to creators. “At the end of the day what I’m guessing they’re going for is trying to be more in line with how other major social platforms handle verification,” he said. “On those platforms it’s more difficult to be verified.” But, Mr. Urgo added, “it’s safe to say that their relationship with creators doesn’t feel as solid as it did years ago.”
“People are going to start making videos on this,” Ms. Jones said. “Like, ‘YouTube, why did you unverify me.’ YouTube is definitely going to be called out for this.”