YouTube is apparently cracking down on fake views, or black hat view inflation, as forums lit up from users wondering why their accounts were being hit by a "Violation of TOU #4 Section H" disclaimer.  Views started disappearing from the bottom line, and The Daily Dot pointed out that three big record companies, Universal, Sony/BMG, and RCA Records, had lost an astounding 2 billion views combined.  A forum got started a few days ago from confused users, and when YouTube finally got around to answering it, the case was made clear: YouTube has had it with black hat views.

YouTube's View Policy

Here's a look at a graph from SocialBlade concerning the December 18 stripping of Universal's views:

YouTube Declares War on Black Hatters as Fake Views Start to Vanish view graph e1356367884471

Universal has been using VEVO for awhile, so the views being stripped from their home channel is almost negligible since the "Universal" channel has been unused for quite some time.

Google Forums started to discuss the violations in the usual, "What the heck?" manner.  YouTube's "ytDangler" came onto the forum and stated:

This was not a bug or a security breach. This was an enforcement of our viewcount policy.

To read more about YouTube's stance on viewcount gaming, please see here:

You can click the link above to see the YouTube Creator Blog describe what constitutes a view.  So let's take a look at the view policy for a second:

Views Are Actions That Users Want To Make

YouTube wants a view to be something that people choose to watch.  A voluntary clicking on a title for a video.  Simple enough.

What Constitutes A Violation

Anything that creates a view through automated means: for example, a bot.  Bots can manipulate a video's view count to make it look like someone really watched the video, when it reality it was played in the dark realms of cyberspace without any eyeballs gracing a screen.

The other violation is when people use companies who use shady means to inflate view counts and then come back to their clients with bogus numbers.  People hire these companies knowingly and unknowingly, so it's good to thoroughly vet a business that claims they can increase your view count.

YouTube also makes mention of some kinds of link trickery, where a link to something somebody would like to watch turns out to be a video they don't want to watch.  For instance, if I wrote, "Click here to win $100!" and you were taken to a video of a cat playing with string, that shouldn't count.


It might also be serving up embedded videos instead of intended content, serving pop-unders, re-directing and/or a variety of other methods people use to try to inflate viewership.

YouTube is not distinguishing between those who unknowingly use black hat businesses and those who knowingly do.  So there might be a lot of confusion out there from those who are losing views who don't know that anything they've done is wrong.

The problem with that is...sometimes black hatters are working their magic on videos where no one asked them to do it.  Maybe a black hatter likes a certain video and wants it to succeed, and just "helps out a friend," so to speak.  So the question is whether YouTube can distinguish the difference on that front.  If not, there's going to be a lot of angry people should YouTube decide to start yanking videos and pulling accounts.

The Daily Dot has an excellent look at all of this, and how the site Black Hat World lit up in response to the recent crackdown.

  • John Thomas

    Thanks for an informative update Chris. Nonetheless, I'm not sure about the "problem" you mention where 'sometimes black hatters are working their magic on videos where no one asked them to do it. Maybe a black hatter likes a certain video and wants it to succeed, and just "helps out a friend," so to speak.' There's no problem in having these views subtracted. We all want to see the real count, not a fake one. Anyone trying to artificially inflate views should be discouraged. If black hat activity becomes capable of sabotaging a video's count, then it becomes a real problem.

  • The_Questman

    Backlinks, Article Spinning, keyword spamming. Social network spamming & other CRAP that Black Hat - Gray Hat hackers build software for will eventually get shut down by Google or their satellite sites such as YouTube. So many people are always looking for a way to Game the system instead of building quality sites, quality videos and a quality experience for those searching for them. Google has always said their goal is to provide "Quality" sites to their searchers, Period. But there are always people willing to try to cheat the system for a few bucks. In some cases the innocent gets caught up too. People too damned lazy to have quality sites and videos should just go to McDonald's & get a job.

  • Stephanie Piche

    What about those companies that pay popular youtubers to do a promo for a video on a different channel getting their subscribers to subscribe and view those videos - before they watch the video they came for - they are paying a lot (up to $30 per 1000 views) - isn't that just a more expensive way of blackhatting a video / subscriber list?

    • Grant Crowell

      Stephanie, would you have an example you could point us to? That might be more of a disclosure issue between the YouTube celebrity and the audience. Google has some policy guidelines about paid product placements, (link included), but I'd need to see an example before you could really say if it's "black hat" or not.

  • Brad Benner

    Seems like this crackdown has opened a huge door for negative SEO to videos now. I mean if I wanted to get rid of a competitors video, all I have to do now is buy a bunch of cheap views for their video and they will get punished... Doesn't seem right to me.

    • Steve Washer

      Indeed! I think this happened to me. My most popular video was taken down in the purge because of someone who either thought they were doing me a favor by buying 20,000 fake views on my birthday, or was trying to "teach me a lesson."

      In any case, I was quite taken aback at the time because the subject of the video was why you should never buy fake views for your videos.