• A content farm is a type of media company that produces a high volume of low-quality media in order to maximize views and advertising revenue
  • Oftentimes, content made by content farms isn’t worth viewers’ time
  • Content farms hurt smaller creators because they make it harder for them to get discovered on YouTube

You see the outrageous and confusing thumbnails everywhere: IF OBJECTS WERE PEOPLE || Useful Everyday Hacks. The thumbnail is a split-screen image. The left side shows a pink candy held by a set of white teeth framed in bright red lips. On the right side, the candy is replaced with a person in a pink body suit. You click. You regret your life choices. You wonder how this outlandish video even made it into your news feed. The truth is this content has been engineered for scale and to please the algorithm. It was produced by a content farm.

What is a content farm?

A content farm is a type of media company that produces a high volume of low-quality media in order to maximize views and advertising revenue. These companies figure out what search engines like Google and YouTube tend to recommend. Then, they mass produce content designed to generate clicks and engagement — and not much else.

Why do they exist?

There is a long history of content farm websites posting hastily written articles with clickbait headlines. This strategy attracts readers to homepages littered with the worst types of ads. These sites take search engine optimization to the extreme, to the detriment of the content.

With the emergence of social media, content farms have expanded their operations to YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and other social media platforms. The advent of the algorithm-based social media feed has made it even easier for clickbait baking channels and fake DIY tutorials to find an audience.

On YouTube, content farms sometimes own hundreds of individual channels covering a range of topics. For instance, Cyprus-based global media company TheSoul owns 100 channels across 19 different languages. That includes 5-Minute Crafts with 77.9 million subscribers. 5-Minute Crafts alone has generated more than 24 billion views as of this writing. TheSoul and companies like it employ an army of video producers so that they can flood the recommended feed with sensationalized thumbnails, misleading videos and empty promises.

Whatever form they take, all content farms have one thing in common: They only exist to make money.

How do they work?

For content farms, the goal is always to generate views, watch time and, in turn, ad revenue. To do this, content farms make a massive amount of content in the most shallow, clickbaity way possible. Even more concerning, these videos often target children, who are more likely to watch videos multiple times. The unbelievable titles and exaggerated thumbnails seem geared toward a younger audience.

Because these channels prioritize click rates, the visual appeal of the craft is more important than its actual usefulness or effectiveness. Many hacks and crafts are faked for the video and won’t work at all if you try them at home. In fact, the more outrageous the craft, the more attractive it will be to viewers, even if they’re just there to hate-watch.

Additionally, these channels will often recycle each other’s content or rehash videos posted by other creators. Using multiple related channels lets companies like TheSoul upload even more mass-produced content. With such low production standards, it’s no wonder these companies can flood the YouTube algorithm with thousands of videos per month.

The backlash

Content farms are not concerned with whether or not the hacks, crafts and recipes actually work — or even if they are safe to try. Many feature the questionable use of power tools, knives, harsh chemicals and open flames. Oddly, some videos also pair DIY visuals with off-beat or inappropriate audio, like dramatized true crime stories. The result is a slew of bizarre and dangerous yet eye-catching videos that often appeal to children.

In response, a number of debunking channels have emerged, including Ann Reardon’s How to Cook That. On her channel, Ann tests out clickbait hacks and recipes and warns viewers when a content farm craft is unsafe. She also talks about content farms and their harmful impact on viewers, creators and YouTube as a whole.

What is the impact on regular creators?

In addition to promoting unsafe crafts to an audience that skews young, flooding the YouTube ecosystem with low-quality content also makes it harder to discover individual creators in the DIY space. Even though these smaller creators often have better, more useful hacks and tips to share, they are drowned out by the constant stream of click-through-rate-optimized content. There’s no way a solo creator can produce enough content to compete with large-scale content farm operations.

The result is fewer independent creators and more mass-produced content built to satisfy the algorithm while remaining empty of actual value.

The future of content farms

Luckily, people have started to pick up on how content farms work and the impact they have on normal creators. Channels like 5-Minute Crafts are still thriving on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, but more people are taking a closer look at this type of content and asking: Why does this exist? Perhaps, this change in attitude will lead to policy changes and algorithm improvements that will disallow or at least disincentivize this kind of annoying, empty and sometimes dangerous content.