Lexical demonetization

« previous post | next post »

The OED's gloss for demonetization is "The action of demonetizing a type of coin, note, currency, or precious metal; (also) the condition of being demonetized", where the verb demonetize is glossed as "To deprive (a type of coin, note, currency, or precious metal) of its status as money; to withdraw from use as legal tender."

For those of us who retain a similar idea of what those words mean, this tweet may take a minute to figure out:

Some of the responses invoke the relationship to demonization, and in particular the fear of a demonic entity known as "the algorithm":

View post on imgur.com

Merriam-Webster is on top of this one, with a third sense for demonetize:

: to block (online content) from earning revenue (as from advertisements)

// When YouTube began its charge to demonetize more videos with sensitive content following its brand safety snafu earlier this year, some high-profile creators were vocal about how their incomes had plummeted as a result.
— Lara O'Reilly

/ Facebook demonetized the Bee's business page in October, leaving it unable to collect fees for subscriptions or virtual events, because of an article that riffed on a classic bit from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."
— Christian Toto

From Wikipedia's article about YouTube:

YouTube's policies on "advertiser-friendly content" restrict what may be incorporated into videos being monetized; this includes strong violence, language, sexual content, and "controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown", unless the content is "usually newsworthy or comedic and the creator's intent is to inform or entertain". In September 2016, after introducing an enhanced notification system to inform users of these violations, YouTube's policies were criticized by prominent users, including Phillip DeFranco and Vlogbrothers. DeFranco argued that not being able to earn advertising revenue on such videos was "censorship by a different name". A YouTube spokesperson stated that while the policy itself was not new, the service had "improved the notification and appeal process to ensure better communication to our creators". Boing Boing reported in 2019 that LGBT keywords resulted in demonetization.

The last sentence refers to Rob Beschizza, "YouTube demonetizing videos where LGBTQ keywords are said", BoingBoing 10/2/2019.

For more details, see Julia Alexander, "The Yellow $: a comprehensive history of demonetization and YouTube’s war with creators", 5/10/2018.

Are these effects of unintelligent "artificial intelligence" different in kind, or only in scope, from the practices of old-fashioned human editorial gatekeepers?

[h/t Tim Leonard]


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 6:19 am

    Dictionaries doesn't seem to have noticed, but both verb and noun are also out there with the sense being made to stop using money (in favour of barter). "The economy was demonetized."

  2. Rodger C said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 10:52 am

    It's an algorithm on the banks of denial!

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 11:07 am

    It may depend on the particular human editorial gatekeepers, with there being some concern that the "human" part of the content-moderating process has been offshored by certain Big Tech companies to cheap-labor locations where the humans may lack cultural context and/or native-speaker fluency.* So e.g. a guy I went to high school with recently got into some sort of disciplinary trouble with Facebook because of using, in a comment, some stock phrase like "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you," which no AmEng native speaker would interpret in context as a plausible threat of violence. But it's not clear to me whether he fell afoul of an algorithm or of someone working for a dollar an hour in Moldova whose perfectly-good-for-the-region ESL lessons had not equipped them to interpret the phrase correctly. Perhaps if he'd written "but I'd have to unalive you" he would been okay, though?

    *Obviously not all social-media content these days is generated by AmEng native speakers so you would need human beings and/or algorithms with lots of other sorts of fluencies and cultural backgrounds and understandings of idiomaticity to do the job right. If doing the job right (and thus resourcing it adequatelyl) was in fact your priority.

  4. RachelP said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 12:47 pm

    I had the impression that 'demonetize' was a sort of lexical convergent evolution. The word 'monetize' has long had the meaning of 'making money from', in the context of say, making money from hobbies – with no connection to currency per se. No negative was ever required in this context, you just stop monetizing things.

    'Monetize' fits naturally to making money from Social Media content, you just widen the context a little, and then a negative becomes useful as a description of having the money-making properties withdrawn. The word 'demonetize' already existed and conveys the concept nicely.

    So I imagined this meaning of ‘demonetize’ came about as the opposite of an extension to the meaning of ‘monetize’, not directly as an extension to the meaning of ‘demonetize’.

  5. Jerry Packard said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 4:33 pm

    Agree w/ RachelP

  6. Thaomas said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 8:15 pm

    Reminds me of the problem of decertification and desertification. Nigeria at one point was threatened by both. :)

  7. Steve Morrison said,

    February 18, 2022 @ 9:09 pm

    Andreas Johansson: Just last week I saw that usage on a history blog, and some people in the comments did initially confuse demonetization with demonization.

  8. Tom Dawkes said,

    February 19, 2022 @ 7:33 am

    George Orwell might well have described this as "double plus ungood". See '1984' and Newspeak.

  9. John C said,

    February 19, 2022 @ 7:38 pm

    “Are these effects of unintelligent ‘artificial intelligence’ different in kind, or only in scope, from the practices of old-fashioned human editorial gatekeepers?”

    Different in kind when it’s the literal words—not the topic—that gets you dinged.

    Generally, a human editor wouldn’t flag a video about WWII (an unobjectionable topic for YouTube) for mentioning the words “Hitler” and “Nazis.” Ditto for a reading of The Rape of Lucrece or review of The Suicide of the West merely because of the title. Nor would they nix you for mentioning “child porn” in a discussion of a court case, yet be totally okay saying the defendant was convicted of being a “kiddie diddler.”

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 8:38 am

    I don't think 'monetise' for making money from something is much older than this 'demonetise', at least in common language. I never heard it before YouTube, and if one word were needed the normal one would be 'commercialise'.

    (I suspect it may have existed in some economic jargon, just like its EU-jargon equivalent 'valorise', not usually recorded in that sense.)

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    February 21, 2022 @ 5:13 pm

    I'm with Andrew here — for the majority of my 74 years, the word "monetise" (or "monetize") was unknown to me. And when I did learn of its existence, it was with some considerable distaste. From the Google n-gram data, "monetize" is considerably more common than "monetise", suggesting either that the word has an American origin or that it is more widely used in American publications.

RSS feed for comments on this post