YouTube’s latest policy change regarding ASMR content on the platform has left a number of VTubers concerned. Creators claim the “puritanical” update could force them to abandon their artform and find another niche on the platform to survive.
ASMR has been a capstone of YouTube content for the better half of a decade. Hidden away in its own corner of the website, users can look up a number of videos of hushed whispers or discrete sounds, all bottled up into various different scenarios.
Viewers of ASMR content swear by the feelings of relaxation it invokes. While there are more “triggers” for the response than just whispering, the soft spoken voice is the best conveyed in video content, and creators have built entire careers on the practice.
One such creator is Secret Subject, who has 80,000 subscribers on YouTube for her ASMR and hypnosis content. She was originally doing just hypnosis before jumping into ASMR in 2020. She then added VTubing into the mix in 2021 because “it looked fun” and it allowed her faceless content to thrive.
“I joined [the ASMR community] because at the time I wanted to pivot my channel into faceless content and it seemed like a cool and creative space to be in which was very successful for my channel and is now what I am more known for,” she recounted to Dexerto.
“It is a sleep aid, it is a comfort, it is a way to experience something you couldn’t or wouldn’t in real life. I use it to educate people on topics and situations and to have a fun time. I think for those who like it, it’s a really great way to unwind and relax.”
However many only see the other, smaller side of ASMR — the sexual tie-in — and that’s the line YouTube is trying to cut. While practically all ASMR content on the Google-owned platform is non-sexual in nature, there have been subtle attempts to silence it.
Earlier in 2022, NIJISANJI VTuber Mashiro was banned on the platform for an undisclosed reason, having to start his account from scratch. On the same day, a number of the agency’s other talents deleted their ASMR content in the aftermath due to a policy change.
A YouTube spokesperson at the time said there was no update recently, and the platform “has a long standing policy that disallows content that involves sexualization of minors,” but made no comment on ASMR itself.
However, a September 7 update to YouTube’s policy on nudity and sexual content is pushing ASMR artists towards leaving the platform.
A Community Manager said “with this policy update, more content from TV shows, movies, and other fictional settings will be allowed on the platform as long as it has the proper context and doesn’t cross the line of sexually gratifying content.”
But there was a specific restriction placed on ASMR creators: “We’ve strengthened our policies to better identify and action ASMR content that is sexually gratifying. ASMR videos with audio sexual sounds may be age-restricted or removed from the platform.”
It’s a broad brush, and creators are already feeling the effects. Videos that include “touching, hugging, massage, and especially kissing” are in the platform’s sights according to Secret Subject. What those noises actually are, and the subjective way of policing them, have ASMR VTubers fearing the policy change could lead to the downfall of the artform.
There’s a big emphasis in the ASMR space on roleplaying and navigating through specific stories and scenarios. For YouTube content, many creators do their best to ensure it’s not sexual. While there are some topics that toe the line, there is a distinct difference between erotic role play and just teasing.
“The reason it’s very popular is not because people listen to it for achieving some kind of sexual gradification,” fellow VTuber Miilkywayz, who has made ASMR content for 18 months, told Dexerto.
Milky described the policy change as “extremely disheartening”. The VTuber had plans to move her streams from Twitch to YouTube after “seeing the potential” in the platform, but policy changes like these are making her second guess that decision.
“I may be concerned about uploading ASMR content on my main YouTube channel from now on,” she continued. “For VTubers that stream on YouTube mainly, I can see it definitely affecting their choices of creating ASMR content. They may even seek out to take that type of content to another streaming platform.
“Truth be told, no one wants to wake up to having their entire channel demonetized or terminated over an ASMR video they recently uploaded or streamed.”
The line has shifted so many times though for creators, it’s practically impossible to know what situations are acceptable for the platform until YouTube deems it inappropriate and demonetizes it — or puts a strike on the creator’s account.
“In the last year alone I’ve had about 30 of my videos age restricted,” Secret Subject explained. “Because I dabble in dominant characters, I assumed it was that making this happen however now some of my most SFW content is the one being blocked.
“For example I have a cat girl hugging and nuzzling hypnosis RP that was age restricted, and when I appealed it was denied in under a minute. This new policy is just adding to the list of things we can’t do. Already so much is put down to context, but apparently even within the context of an audio play, that’s not good enough for YouTube to consider before letting our content take a hit, especially monetarily.
“While it’s not about the money for me, as I love giving people free content, some of my videos have over 100,000 views and I’m making no money from them.”
The constant crackdown on ASMR content while other sexually suggestive content makes waves on the platform has content creators feeling specifically targeted by YouTube. There’s a knowledge gap between those within the space and those outside who hold the moderation powers.
“It makes complete sense YouTube would find ASMR content easier than other problematic content that often can be hard to find with search terms,” Milky said. “ASMR will always be under ASMR.”
Big rip for people who have sensual sounding voices naturally because they can just deem that sexually gratifying. Any kind of memes that are revolving around sex because it’s funny. 😑 Even games that share some scenes that would be okay on Twitch will now not be on YouTube.— Milky 🌌 | VMommy ⋆ (@Miilkywayz) September 12, 2022
Milky’s anecdote isn’t an isolated one — the bad wap ASMR gets means creators are looking for a new home. Some already have Patreon accounts where they can do both SFW and adult content. Twitch is also more accepting of the practice, as long as the visual aspect doesn’t break the Terms of Service.
Regardless of whether there’s a reversal of the policy or not, ASMR content creators still feel unfairly treated “when it comes to decisions on restrictions, demonetization and strikes,” Secret Subject admitted. If these ASMR artists want a future on YouTube, they believe they’ll have to abandon their roots entirely.
“If they were open with where the lines were drawn it would be better, but also I think the puritanical control will be their downfall here,” Secret Subject said. “Creators are not happy. We talk to each other and share in the issues we see and face and the limits are being so tightly placed now that most scenarios are off limits.”
“I’ve been [doing] YouTube full time since 2019 and it really makes me question if I made the right choice. It’s been tiring talking to Google employees who can’t tell me directly what to fix to sort my issues and realistically if any of us want longevity on the platform we might need to look into another niche entirely.”
At the end of the day though, these ASMR content creators just want to be understood like any other star on YouTube. Their content serves a big enough audience to make a living, but they feel like the walls are coming in on what is a misunderstanding of the space, and it’s threatening their livelihoods.
“I wish people understood that ASMR is not creepy, weird, or always sexual,” Secret concluded. “While some of us do NSFW work on the side, we understand the line and limiting ourselves more and more creatively strips our autonomy to create work.”