Opinion Column

The Duel

Ctrl+Alt+Del all Nazi videos

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Photo Illustration)

(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Photo Illustration)


This week's question: Is YouTube justified in restricting extreme right-wing content?

A man brandishing a gun stands with a swastika flag. This video was brought to you by a hospice charity. Or so it would seem from a neo-Nazi group’s YouTube channel where the hospice’s ad appeared. Unbeknownst to the charity, with every view of the video, they were funding white supremacists.

More than 250 advertisers, including Pepsi, Starbucks, Walmart, McDonalds and the U.K. government, suspended business with YouTube after discovering their ads appearing alongside neo-fascist or pro-ISIS videos. YouTube is changing things and conservatives are alleging censorship.

But extremist speech isn’t just controversial opinion. It’s not like dishonestly shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. It’s like issuing arson instructions and gasoline.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

And YouTube isn’t just cat videos and makeup tutorials. As of press time, the major channels of the conservative commentariat continue to dominate the platform. An alt-right darling, and major YouTube star, lost his contract with Disney due to alleged anti-Semitism but his videos are still up. InfoWars’ Paul Joseph Watson tweeted: “I'm not sure the left understand the monumental ass-whupping being dished out to them on YouTube."

But this is about money not ideology. Advertisers know that hate doesn’t sell. The very market forces constantly venerated by the right are against them here. Besides, their appeals to free speech are hard to take seriously given their desire to suppress the rights of immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, etc.

The truth is that YouTube is worried that this advertisers’ boycott could cost them US$750 million. The platform is scrambling to fix things so companies can better control where their ads appear. They added a “Restricted Mode” so schools and parents can block content flagged by other users. And videos must conform to guidelines.

Algorithms screen the 300 hours of video uploaded every minute, but they can be gamed. Channels report on each other to get competing content deleted. Groups do the same to videos they oppose ideologically. Content from across the political spectrum is affected, including videos from popular LGBTQ and feminist YouTubers.

YouTube manipulates content for the bottom line. Companies, such as Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube), have become near-monopolies, dominating online life after having disrupted other forms of media and community. Our conversations and political ideas are commodified and positioned to maximize profit.

This free-market dystopia of media concentration is the product of years of conservative deregulation and austerity. If alt-right content gets restricted, they’ve only been hoisted on their own petard of unfettered capitalism.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.