Like a lot of people on YouTube, Nick Reineke makes videos about games. And like a lot of people on YouTube, he wants to make money off those videos. But he can't. Last month, YouTube banned him from AdSense, the advertising service that most YouTubers use to make money.
It's not clear exactly why he was banned—YouTube hasn't explained—but Reineke thinks he knows what the problem was: an excited fan. A fan who clicked on one of Reineke's ads too many times.
A fan who might have inadvertently ruined Reineke's YouTube career.
Kotaku was first contacted by Reineke, who runs a channel dedicated to showing off indie games, a few weeks ago. He told us that he had received an e-mail from YouTube saying he was banned from AdSense for "invalid activity." And he said he knew why.
"I've come to find out that a fan of mine took it upon himself to "help" my page by clicking
my ad 20 or so times," he said in an e-mail. "I'd never condone this and never would have wanted anyone to do this as I am aware it is a flagrant violation of the AdSense Terms of Service. Unfortunately for me, my YouTube channel is tied to my AdSense account and because of this issue I am now blacklisted from becoming a YouTube partner and monetizing my videos in the future."
The fan has admitted to clicking the ad, posting on Reineke's forums to apologize. "I thought, 'Hey, maybe I could give it a few clicks to see if Nick gets any money from it. Couldn't hurt to try, right?'" he wrote. "This was obviously [an] incredibly dumb decision and ended up getting Nick's AdSense blocked completely."
Reineke has reached out to other YouTube networks to try to strike a deal, but they won't partner with someone who can't support AdSense. He can't make a new account without making up a false identity. And when he appealed to YouTube, they denied his request.
Here's the letter they sent him:
Thanks for the additional information provided in your appeal, we appreciate your continued interest in the AdSense program. After thoroughly reviewing your account data and taking your feedback into consideration, our specialists have confirmed that we're unable to reinstate your AdSense account.
If you'd like more details on our invalid activity policies or review process, please visit http://www.google.com/adsense/suppor.... As a reminder, further participation in the AdSense program by publishers whose accounts have been disabled is not permitted.
Thanks for your understanding,
The Google AdSense Team
After an e-mail like that, Reineke says there isn't much else he can do.
"It is not possible to directly contact Google," he said. "No one will speak with you, and there are no other avenues unless you are friends with someone who works there. Once your appeal is rejected, they will not reply to your emails or speak with you further on the issue (they actually tell you that in the rejection letter). It is essentially a LIFETIME ban for your account. Seems fair, right?"
I reached out to YouTube for clarity, but they wouldn't comment on Reineke's specific situation. A YouTube representative sent me this statement:
If we determine that an AdSense account may pose a risk to our advertisers or the experience of individual users, we may disable that account to protect the health of the network. If a publisher feels that the decision to suspend their AdSense account was made in error, and if they can maintain in good faith that the invalid activity was not due to the actions or negligence of themselves or those for whom they are responsible, they can appeal the disabling of their account. Accounts will be reinstated on a case by case basis.
While it's certainly possible that Reineke was banned for another reason, he told me he has no idea what that might be, and YouTube isn't helping.
"The notification that they had disabled my AdSense account due to 'invalid activity' was sent just a few days after the person had told me they did the spam clicking on my ad," he said. "Since it was the only ad I had up, and it was the only thing tied to my AdSense account... it's really the only thing that could have caused this. I've also considered the possibility of a rogue spammer on my site or something random like that, but I've never seen any evidence of strange behavior on the site before my account had already been disabled.
"My YouTube and website editing and usage (with respect to my account standing) has been very much a repeated pattern of posting new content the same way day after day for months, so I can say in good conscience, other than the fan clicking the ad, there wasn't a deviation of any kind or anything I've done that would be misconstrued as malicious by Google."
So Reineke is frustrated. He's feeling helpless. And he doesn't know what to do next.
"My question is: what is there to stop someone who didn't like me from spamming any ad they know to be powered by AdSense to get it all taken down?" Reineke said. "There are no repercussions for the person doing the clicking, only the people who stand to lose everything. Seeing as how I did not condone this action by the individual who thought they were helping me, it's not really much different.
"So is there really justice here? Someone who has devoted thousands of hours to their site and channel is now barred from potentially ever making money from their work on this service because an over-zealous fan decided on their own to spam click my ad?"
Update: Shortly after the publication of this article, I got an e-mail from Reineke saying that his account had been restored. He wasn't contacted by YouTube or informed in any way; he just suddenly saw that AdSense was back.
"I uploaded a video last night and I didn't have the row of $s next to my videos," he said. "This morning, as I noticed [this article] show up in my RSS feed, it was back."