On Tuesday, June 7th, the popular gaming YouTuber The Act Man received the worst possible news a creator can get from YouTube. His entire channel was being demonetized, and he was getting kicked out of the Partner Program. His alleged crime: embarrassing YouTube for allowing its creators to harass, stalk and harm others on their platform. The Act Man had taken on the case of a mass copyright infringement troll, Quantum TV, a ne’er-do-well who among other sins, had called up and threatened his mother. YouTube, however, when presented with the evidence of serial abuse on their platform, was unphased. What they did care about is that Act Man dared point it out.
What YouTube has done here is an outrageous act against safety and the culture of free speech on YouTube, which if left standing, makes us all a little less free today than we were before last week.
The video that so upset YouTube is "The Dark Age of YouTube," a video that shows that everything YouTube says about enforcing its own rules is often arbitrary nonsense. In the long-form video, Act Man -a popular YouTuber with 1.5 million subscribers, real name Kelly Van Achte– scathingly documented the bad behavior of one of the worst trolls and ne’er-do-wells on YouTube.
Quantum TV is, in the technical term: the worst. Throughout his time on YouTube, since at least 2018, he’s been responsible for several channels being banned on the platform, many more demonetized, and view counts dropped, sometimes going so far as to put people’s lives in physical danger. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole; you can read some of his Twitter history. Quantum loves to use the Pulse Nightclub shooting, one of the worst mass shootings in US history, as both a slur and a talking point against any gay person online he may, unfortunately, come across.
Yet despite all this, YouTube has done just short of nothing about it save having Quantum’s small unused original YouTube account banned back in 2018. Here we have a creator that routinely stalks critics, mass flags copyright right strikes against other creators, and goes so far as to harass family members of critics, and YouTube doesn’t have an opinion about it.
As for Kelly, besides being a gaming YouTuber known for his smarmy character and insightful long-form reviews on video games, The Act Man is also known in the YouTube community as someone always willing to help creators that approach him for advice and assistance. One day in March, a 16-year-old YouTuber named Mischief reached out to him for assistance with several false copyright strikes coming against him, which turned out to be Quantum TV. Van Achte agreed to investigate and speak to YouTube on his behalf to hopefully save Mischief’s channel. What he found during his investigation stunned him.
While examining the problem over the course of ust three weeks in April, Quantum had mass copyright struck several channels. Sometimes the only thing his victims did wrong was using a picture of Quantum’s face in a thumbnail. Among the issues already mentioned above, Quantum would also try to put his targets in social and perhaps even legal trouble, like when he made allegations of pedophilia against consumer-tech Youtuber: Review Tech USA.
In the world of YouTube, copyright strikes are severe. It takes one against a channel for the views to nosedive and three to kill it off for good. It’s a massive problem on YouTube, a consequence of the arguably weak framework provided by Section 230 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It’s even worse when their creators do it, and YouTube does nothing to curtail false strikes.
The problem is bad enough that any YouTuber that spends enough time on the platform will eventually have to deal with a copyright strike, often for no more reason than a 4-second clip of audio. For giant companies, this is usually done to
steal take the monetization revenue from YouTuber’s videos. For smaller creators, it’s either trolling or a proactive defense from criticism. But whatever the reason, YouTube usually lets it happen and rarely steps in to protect its creators.
Or, as Van Achte told me, “YouTube, to my knowledge, does little or nothing against Content Creators that abuse the system." Unless you have 100 thousand subscribers or more, YouTube entirely ignores you. “This is a major problem when false takedowns can end someone’s YouTube career and negatively impact them. The damages to someone’s livelihood and mental well-being simply cannot be quantified. (italics added)”
So, considering what these small Youtubers were going through due to the malevolent actions of Quantum TV, the Act Man decided he’d had enough. At first, Van Achte tested the waters. He mocked Quantum in a popular video over his terrible Elden Ring review without bringing up the other issues. However, Quantum did not take kindly to the Act Man reviewing him as he had reviewed others so many times in the past.
At first, came the copyright strikes, then came the odd threats in emails and social media stalking. Then shockingly, one evening, Van Achte’s mother received a threatening phone call from Quantum, threatening legal action. A feat Quantum would repeat later on.
Said Van Achte: “My mom was very concerned because it was out of the blue, a phone call from some random guy threatening her. She had no idea why this was happening, but to me, it was just the latest string of harassment tactics Quantum TV was willing to use to silence criticism about him. Since the copyright takedown request, he submitted failed him, this was the logical next step in his twisted mind.”
April 25th 2022
Some claim the Act Man had no reason to get so hot on Quantum’s trail, but what would you do if your mom was threatened? What if you knew the man that did it was breaking the law and YouTube policy; would you ignore that, or would you act. The Act Man took the more challenging route. He went to war in a campaign of viral gumshoe-themed videos showcasing Quantum’s lousy behavior. He jokingly called it getting “Quantum canceled off of YouTube.”
But unlike the impression some give, that isn’t just what Van Achte did. During these last three months, in the background, Van Achte contacted his YouTube Partner Program specialist and begged YouTube to do something. He shared evidence, including the threatening phone calls. Three times he filed official reports to YouTube. After the first reports got ignored, he put together a dossier of over 35,000 words and, based on the bland language of the replies given, to Van Achte, it was apparent YouTube refused to seriously review the evidence. Van Acht didn’t know what to do next, he tried to follow the rules and go through the proper channels, but nothing the Act Man did seem to get the uncaring red goliath to pay attention and take action.
So, the Actman made the only play he had left. In the first week of June, he released his channel’s magnum opus, The Dark Age of YouTube, a brilliant, almost hour-long video providing all this evidence, plus ban evasion, which meant YouTube, according to its own rules, had good reason to kill his channel. The video is themed like a courtroom trial, highlighting specifically, according to YouTube’s rules, why Quantum should be taken down.
Now YouTube paid attention, but it wasn’t Quantum TV they worried over.
The Dark Age of YouTube is an entertaining and impressive display of the major shortcomings of the world’s favorite video platform. Alas, you likely will not be able to watch the Dark Age as YouTube removed almost every trace of it from the web. Last weekend the video was taken off by YouTube with a copyright strike warning, citing "nudity or sexually suggestive material," which isn’t in the video.
This was worrisome to Van Achte, but things quickly got stranger. Suddenly, Van Achte had several high-performing game videos, some years old, rapidly losing monetization. Other channels like Asmongold, Fritanga Plays, and Review Tech USA that did commentary on the Dark Age video got taken down as well, and their videos were demonetized. Smaller channels covering the topic, with much less clout, were banned entirely from YouTube.
When Van Achte contacted these more prominent channels, he found all received the same notice from YouTube on the same day, within the same hour. One by one, falling like dominoes, anyone with anything to do with the video or who supported Act Man got content demonetized and removed.
Then Tuesday night, during a Twitch stream, Van Achte’s nightmare became real, and Damocles’s sword fell upon him. YouTube was pulling the plug. Though Van Achte never received one successful copyright strike while on YouTube, he got officially notified that his channel would be permanently unable to monetize content and out of the Partner Program. He was floored. Kelly always had a good relationship with YouTube and is still one of their most vocal supporters. Yet, despite seven years of constant solid output and gobs of money made for YouTube, they were still willing to wash their hands of him for a supposed offense Quantum TV had done in spades.
When the Act Man asked for an appeal, YouTube replied: “We’ve looked at your content again carefully, and have confirmed that it does violate Community Guidelines. It will not be available on YouTube. We know it may be disappointing, but it’s important that we keep the YouTube community protected. (italics added)”
Initially, the story caught fire online and on Twitter. Gaming news site Dexerto would eventually cover it. So to save face, YouTube publicly responded on Twitter by blaming two deleted tweets of Act Man about doxing YouTube employees, arguing this was done to "protect the community." However, this claim is bunk if you understand the timeline I’ve laid out here. These tweets were created after his video was taken down and were deleted content, which YouTube treated in Quantum’s case as a non-issue. Nevertheless, it was satire in response to YouTube’s egregious actions. It’s brazenly dishonest.
June 9th 2022
Van Achte replied: “Thanks, While I appreciate this, the tweet was unmistakable satire of YouTube’s inaction to do anything about my family being doxed by another content creator. Common sense would suggest being a victim of doxing, that I would never wish doxing on other people.”
June 9th 2022
It’s now been almost a week since the takedown, and the pressure in the community is beginning to slow. When I contacted media outlets to run a version of this story, they almost all gave a pass and told me this was just another story about some beef between two YouTubers. However, they couldn’t be more wrong.
What this story illustrates is that YouTube will not defend its own creators, even when they are in the right and abiding by YouTube policy. They will happily use Section 230 claims and whine about the DMCA to let people know that they wish they could do something to stop problems on their platform but the law holds them back. But this story is entirely independent of that debate. Here we have a creator that breaks YouTube’s rules and continually and repeatedly harasses other creators. What #JuscticeforActman illustrates is that it isn’t that YouTube can’t do anything to help creators or protect open and free debate on their platform. It’s that they won’t.
What happens next is predictably sad and frustrating.
Van Achte and his family are understandably confused. He’s talked with attorneys and considered his options. Frankly, besides a lawsuit, which they will likely lose as the courts almost always side with YouTube -I’d be surprised if these judges even watch content on the platform – there isn’t much Van Achte can do to save our scrappy YouTube hero.
At the same time, many rumors abound online as few outlets will cover this story. One myth is that Dark Age doxed YouTube employees by using clips of YouTube policy officials stating the official rules of the platform. However, this isn’t doxing, as the only YouTube employees referenced are clips from publicly available policy videos. As you can see, if Act Man still had his video, he could easily disprove this notion. Defending his career against the Behemoth is that much more challenging with all the evidence being taken down.
Van Achte knows all this, which is why he feels so despondent about the whole affair. He told me: “I will say that it is a very scary thing to happen. I’m hoping for the best results out of this. The amount of action that was taken against my channel in the span of a couple hours was insane and honestly, quite traumatic.”
I hope journalists and non-YouTubers can understand his fear. The Act Man spent seven years building an audience but now is silenced for embarrassing the company. While his abuser, Quantum TV, maintains his toxic presence on the platform.
What YouTube has done here is despicable and indefensible. Social media companies pretend to have rules and marked boundaries for behavior on their platforms. Act Man shows these “rules” mean absolutely nothing. Act Man, like many untold creators before him, did the right thing, while Quantum TV hurt people and was rewarded for it with more views, and his detractors shut down.
The message this sends to other potential abusers is sickening to contemplate. It strikes against the culture and principles of free speech and thereby harms everyone. We are less free and able to post commentary online now than a week ago. It allows all video platforms cover to misbehave. This isn’t more right vs. left debate; this is a problem that affects all creators and consumers. That YouTube could go after one of gaming’s funniest good Samaritans is what is leading the YouTube community to push #JusticeForActMan. As Van Achte lamented on Twitch: "I know we got differences about politics or wokeness, but we should all be able to agree on keeping YouTube safe and protecting it for all creators."
For this article, I interviewed Act Man and reached out to YouTube and Quantum TV for comment but received no response from either.
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