Where is the line when creating content for YouTube? How far can you go without hurting the growth of your channel, getting demonetized, or receiving a strike?
Let’s go over profanity, drinking, smoking, drugs, sex, nudity, violence, and more.
Where To Find YouTube’s Official Content Guidelines
YouTube has official Community Guidelines, and they’ve posted their advertiser-friendly content guidelines here. They also have their official creator’s channel where they address these topics from time to time.
I will do my best to summarize what you need to know in layman’s terms. That said, you’re always going to want to default to YouTube’s formal guidance in the links above.
Does De-monetization Hurt Growth?
Advertisers typically have a stricter set of guidelines for videos than YouTube does. Meaning it’s possible to create a video that’s OK for the YouTube platform that ends up getting de-monetized. This begs the question, “Does having your video de-monetized hurt growth.”
It’s important to understand that ads are how YouTube makes money. YouTube doesn’t have a ton of motivation to promote videos that don’t earn money. Thus, if your goal is maximum growth, I’d try to follow the stricter advertiser guidelines.
Plus, it’s hard to walk the thin line between not advertisers-friendly and YouTube-friendly. I’d default to the stricter advertiser guidance to be safe.
Profanity (Can You Swear On YouTube?)
Can I drop a single f-bomb in my YouTube video and have any hopes of seeing that video succeed on the platform? Luckily, the official YouTube Creators channel addresses this in the video below quite thoroughly.
To summarize, YouTube has stated that they look closely at the Title, Thumbnail, and first 30 seconds of the video to help determine whether the video’s monetizable. YouTube also groups profanity into 3 buckets.
Bucket 1) Words That are Barely Swearing (Don’t Worry About Them)
These words include (but are not limited to): Heck, Gosh Darnit, Dang, Shoot, Damn, Hell. YouTube has officially stated no worries about these. So keep on doing what you’re doing. You can even use these words in your Title and Thumbnail, etc. (Although I’d personally be wary of that).
Bucket 2) Stronger Profanity
These words include your F-bombs, Sh*t, Bullsh*t, B*tch, Wh*re, Sl*t, a**hole, douchebag, c*ck, d*ck, and p*ssy. Some of my favorite words are in that list 🙁 .
You want to keep these words out of your Title and Thumbnail. You’ll also want to avoid using them repeatedly in the first 30 seconds of your video.
That said, you’re not going to get de-monetized if you drop a single f-bomb 5 minutes into the video. Try to limit this type of profanity particularly early in your video. However, you can still monetize even if there’s an instance or two of this level of profanity in your video.
Bucket 3) Strongest Profanity
These are the words that you should avoid using anywhere in your video. Even just once or twice.
These include your n-words, your c-words, and derogatory terms directed at protected groups. Stuff that I’m not comfortable writing on my blog. If your words could be considered violent hate speech, it’s probably time to tone it down.
YouTube’s official stance is that they like bleeping (until you get to the strongest profanity, which they don’t want you using at all). So if you want to be safe and bleep your f-bombs, go right ahead. It might help make it safe for monetization if you overuse those words (particularly early in your video).
I find it impossible to be good on camera while drinking (even after just 1 or 2 beers). I start rambling, misspeaking, and botching entire takes (without realizing it). It’s bad to the point where I never attempt it (even if I do enjoy a good beer).
That said, if you wanted or needed alcohol in your video, can you drink on YouTube?
Strangely the advertiser-friendly content guidelines rarely mention the word beer, wine, or alcohol. Here are the only comments they have on alcohol.
- The Presence of alcohol or adults drinking alcohol in content without promoting or glorifying irresponsible drinking is OK.
- Minors consuming alcohol under any circumstances is not permitted. Promoting the consumption of alcohol to minors is also not allowed. (The exception is that educational or documentary content about the dangers of underage drinking will only drop you down to “yellow” status with advertisers).
So there you have it. Follow those two rules, and you should be able to enjoy a beverage on YouTube.
Content that promotes tobacco or tobacco-related products will get demonetized. You’ll want to avoid smoking cigars, cigarettes, vapes, or chewing tobacco in your videos. Advertisers have a pretty clear anti-smoking stance which means YouTube can’t make any money from videos in which you’re using tobacco. It may hurt growth.
That said, I couldn’t find smoking directly referenced by YouTube on the Community Guidelines or Creators Channel. The reason for this is that YouTube considers tobacco to be a drug (because it induces a high). So I’d look to the drug section for guidance.
YouTube’s creator channel actually directly addresses drug use on the platform in the video below (at 2:33).
Don’t use, make, or sell hard drugs on YouTube (also, never film yourself doing something illegal, then place that footage on the Internet). YouTube is also particularly sensitive to minors with drugs. For example, alcohol is OK to use on the platform. Still, it can get you a strike if you depict children consuming alcohol.
I’d avoid showing drugs of any kind on YouTube. There are two tricky subjects here, though. The first is tobacco which advertisers are going to de-monetize you for. The second is marijuana which may have been legalized in your state. But, it is a Schedule 1 drug federally (schedule 1 drugs include LSD, heroin, and freaking Meth, for goodness sake).
I wouldn’t risk using tobacco or marijuana on the platform. I know there’s a famous clip of Joe Rogan and Elon Musk getting high with weed cigars on YouTube (at 2:09:58). But sometimes, large creators are afforded privileges that small creators are not.
YouTube’s advertiser guidelines state that violence should not be the primary focus of your video. Violence in and of itself won’t get you de-monetized. For instance, playing a violent video game wouldn’t get de-monetized (unless the content was focused on the violence and not the gameplay).
Your video can’t explicitly be about the violence with no educational purpose behind it. That said, I really feel like you have to show some violent stuff to cross the line here. We’ve been watching some pretty violent “action” on TV for years now and are quite desensitized to it.
Cyber-Bullying / Harassment
Don’t do this. Just as one creator to another, you’ll get a lot further making positive content than doing takedowns of other people. Particularly takedowns of people who aren’t public figures and didn’t sign up for that level of scrutiny (Bullying the sitting president is very different from bullying Steve from Biology class).
That said, I don’t feel like criticizing extremely public figures like the US president would fall under this policy. Just be careful not to cross the line here and start slamming a regular guy. You can get yourself into some serious trouble with defamation lawsuits if you’re not careful.
Content With Sex and Nudity
I’ve seen bathing suit hauls on YouTube where girls will try on a bunch of bikinis (only because I was researching for this post, I swear). The video I linked has over 2.5 MILLION views, and it isn’t de-monetized (A lot of girls trying to find the perfect bathing suit, I bet).
Then there’s outright porn; YouTube doesn’t allow pornography. Simple enough.
Then there’s a gray area. YouTube doesn’t want the point of your content to be sexual gratification. Suppose the bathing suit haul I linked to only included provocative posing instead of information about which suit to buy. In that case, the creator may have crossed a line (even without nudity). Your video needs to have a point of something other than just being sexy.
However, YouTube does allow nudity when the primary purpose is “educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic.” Anything in there is a gray area. I recommend checking out YouTube’s official guidance on this if you’re approaching a gray area.
Luckily, YouTube made a video about what you can and cannot do with firearms to clear up any confusion.
You can show hunting-related content or guns used responsibly in a safe environment. What is a safe environment? Typically a heavily wooded area or a shooting range built for target practice is considered safe. Any type of populated area is deemed to be unsafe.
You are also allowed to use airsoft or bb-guns in most circumstances. What YouTube frowns upon is if somebody in your video is hit with one of the projectiles (particularly if they are not wearing protective gear).
However, there is a whole host of things you cannot do with guns on your channel. Promoting the sale of guns, promoting gun stores, modifying guns, showing minors using guns without adult supervision, etc. You need to check out YouTube’s advertiser guidelines on firearms for more guidance if you make videos with guns. Also, check the video below for a lot of good info about guns in your videos.
Hate Speech, Inciting Violence, Bullying, etc.
I’m putting this all into one bucket (even though YouTube gives each of these their own category on its website). You’re not allowed to do any of this stuff.
That said, it’s difficult to say where the line is. For instance, I’d argue that many right-wingers on the platform (Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, Formerly Donald Trump, etc.) can sometimes cross the line into outright inflammatory hate speech (January 6th, anyone?). And advertisers sometimes agree, which is why many of the videos have been de-monetized, or you’ve seen the creator’s channel penalized.
That said, those same creators have managed to build up large followings on YouTube. They haven’t been banned from the platform, and many of their videos have ads. More explicitly hateful channels such as David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Stefan Molyneux have been outright banned from the platform for repeated violations. So somewhere in-between those positions is where the line is.
Controversial and Sensitive Issues
This gets brought up a lot in the advertiser guidelines; YouTube itself doesn’t say much about it.
I think of this category of things advertisers just don’t want to be associated with. For instance, YouTube pretty aggressively demonetized any video that mentioned the word Covid during the start of the pandemic.
Stuff abortion, child abuse, extreme news events (school shootings, pandemics) may fall into this category. If the subject gets people extremely riled up there’s a risk that advertisers will not want to be associated with it.
Other Stuff You Shouldn’t Do
If you’re a regular guy (or gal), you probably don’t do any of this stuff, but consider stopping if you do.
- Fake Engagement – Buying likes, subscribers, or creating a botnet to watch your videos, etc.
- Links To The Dark Web – Don’t put links to porn, spam, scams, etc., in your description/video.
- Impersonation – You can’t outright pretend you’re the official version of another channel
- Child Endangerment – C’mon guys, don’t bully kids or put up naked pictures of them on YouTube. This shouldn’t need to be said.
- Thumbnail violations – Putting any of the stuff you’re not allowed to do in your video in your thumbnails.
- Promoting self-harm – Content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or is intended to shock or disgust users.
- Inactive Accounts – YouTube claims that if you’ve never uploaded a video and don’t log in for 6+ months they may reclaim your inactive account.
- Posting Previously Removed Content – They removed it for a reason.
- Not Being Old Enough To Use The Platform – Age restrictions vary by country.