YouTube’s latest policy change regarding ASMR content on the platform has left a number of VTubers concerned. The creators say the “puritanical” update might force them to abandon their art form and find another niche on the platform to survive.
ASMR has been the cornerstone of YouTube content for half a decade. Hidden in its own corner of the website, users can search for a number of videos of muffled whispers or quiet sounds, all grouped into different scenarios.
Viewers of ASMR content swear by the feelings of relaxation it invokes. Although there are more “triggers” for the response than just whispers, the soft voice is best conveyed in video content, and creators have built entire careers on this practice.
One such creator is Secret Subject, which has 80,000 YouTube subscribers for its ASMR and hypnosis content. She originally only did hypnosis before getting into ASMR in 2020. She then added VTubing to the mix in 2021 because “it sounded like fun” and it allowed her content without face to thrive.
“I joined [the ASMR community] because at the time I wanted to pivot my channel to faceless content and it seemed like a cool and creative space where I had a lot of success for my channel and that’s now what I’m for better known,” she told Dexerto.
“It’s a sleep aid, it’s a comfort, it’s 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 very good way to relax and unwind.
However, many only see the other, smaller side of ASMR —the sex bond —and that’s the line that YouTube is trying to cut. While virtually 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 from the platform for an undisclosed reason, having to start his account from scratch. On the same day, a number of other agency talents removed their ASMR content afterwards due to a policy change.
A YouTube spokesperson at the time said there had been no recent updates and that the platform “has a long-standing policy that prohibits content involving the sexualization of minors”, but did not comment on ASMR itself.
However, a Sept. 7 update to YouTube’s policy on nudity and sexual content is pushing ASMR artists off the platform.
A community manager said “with this policy update, more content from TV shows, movies and other placeholders will be allowed on the platform as long as it has the proper context and does not does not cross the line into sexually gratifying content”.
But there was a specific restriction placed on ASMR creators: “We have strengthened our policies to better identify and implement ASMR content that is sexually gratifying. ASMR videos with audio sex sounds may be age restricted or removed from the platform.
It’s a wide brush and creators are already feeling the effects. Videos that include “touching, hugging, massaging and especially kissing” are in the crosshairs of the platform according to Secret Subject. The real nature of these noises and the subjective way of controlling them makes ASMR VTubers fear that the change in policy will lead to the downfall of the art form.
Some VTubers agencies, like NIJISANJI’s Asuka Hina, removed ASMR videos from YouTube earlier in 2022 due to concerns about company policy.
In the ASMR space, the focus is on role-playing and navigating specific stories and scenarios. For YouTube content, many creators do their best to make sure it’s not sexual. Although some topics fit the line, there is a distinct difference between erotic roleplay and simple teasing.
“The reason it’s hugely popular isn’t because people listen to it to get some sort of sexual gradation,” fellow VTuber Miilkywayz, who has been creating ASMR content for 18 months, told Dexerto.
Milky described the change in policy as “extremely discouraging”. The VTuber intended to move his streams from Twitch to YouTube after “seeing the potential” of the platform, but policy changes like these have him second guessing that move.
“I may be concerned about uploading ASMR content to my main YouTube channel from now on,” she continued. “For VTubers who primarily stream on YouTube, I can see this definitely affecting their choices for creating ASMR content. They may even be looking to move that type of content to another streaming platform.
“Truth be told, no one wants to wake up to their entire channel demonetized or terminated because of an ASMR video they recently uploaded or streamed.”
The line has changed so many times that for creators, it’s virtually impossible to know what situations are acceptable for the platform until YouTube deems it inappropriate and demonetizes it —or puts the creator on strike .
“In the last year alone, about 30 of my videos have been age restricted,” Secret Subject explained. “Because I’m into dominant characters, I assumed that was what made it possible, but now some of my most SFW content is the blocked ones.
“For example, I have a cat girl who hugs and snuggles hypnosis RP which was age restricted, and when I appealed it was turned down within a minute. This new policy just adds to the list of things we can’t do Already so much is put into context but apparently even in the context of an audio playback it’s not good enough that YouTube considers this before letting our content take a hit, especially financially.
“Although it’s not about the money for me, because I like giving people free content, some of my videos have over 100,000 views and I don’t make any money from them.”
The constant crackdown on ASMR content while other sexually suggestive content makes waves on the platform makes content creators feel specifically targeted by YouTube. There is a knowledge gap between those inside the space and those outside who hold the powers of moderation.
“It makes perfect sense that YouTube finds ASMR content easier than other problematic content that can often be difficult to find with search terms,” Milky said. “ASMR will always be ASMR.”
Milky’s anecdote is not isolated — the bad wap obtained by ASMR means that the 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 appearance doesn’t violate the terms of service.
Regardless of whether there is 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 think they’ll have to let go of their roots altogether.
“If they were open with where the lines were drawn that would be better, but I also think puritanical control will be their downfall here,” Secret Subject said. “The creators are not happy. We talk to each other and share the issues we see and encounter and the boundaries are so tightly placed now that most scenarios are off limits.
“I was [doing] YouTube full time since 2019 and it really makes me wonder if I made the right choice. It’s been tiring talking to Google people who can’t tell me directly what needs to be fixed to fix my issues and realistically if any of us want longevity on the platform , we may have to turn to another niche entirely.
Ultimately, these ASMR content creators just want to be understood like any other star on YouTube. Their content serves an audience large enough to earn a living, but they feel like the walls are coming in on what is a misunderstanding of space, and it threatens their livelihood.
“I wish people understood that ASMR isn’t scary or weird or always sexual,” Secret concluded. “As some of us do NSFW work on the side, we understand the line and increasingly limiting ourselves creatively, taking away our autonomy to create work.”