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YouTube’s anti-fascist crackdown mistakenly cracks down on anti-fascists

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YouTube’s decision to ban extremist content has accidentally targeted innocent creators, including a journalist who deconstructs claims made by far-right extremists.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has long resisted banning ‘borderline’ extremist content such as far-right conspiracy theory videos despite clear policies on other inappropriate content, such as pornography and Islamist terrorism. In April 2019, Bloomberg reported that videos made by far-right creators were some of the most popular and profitable content on the platform, alongside music videos and gaming videos.

YouTube has faced a week of fury over its decision not to delete a video of a prominent YouTuber repeatedly mocking a LGBT+ Latino journalist, Carlos Maza. This week, YouTube announced that it would ban videos promoting the superiority of any group to discriminate against others on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation or other characteristics. This would put an end to the platform hosting videos promoting Holocaust denial, Neo-Nazism and school shooting conspiracy theories.

While the crackdown has affected some prominent extremist creators, many others have been gleefully unaffected so far.

Meanwhile, a number of educators, campaigners and journalists who use the platform to criticise these extremist views have seen their channels and content suspended following the ban. YouTuber 'Rational Disconnect', who makes videos deconstructing far-right arguments, wrote on Twitter that a video had previously been flagged up and put into a “limited state”. The video (South Africa & The Far Right) has used some clips from extremist conspiracy-mongering ‘news’ organisation Infowars. Following the change in YouTube’s policy, the video was deleted. Following his complaint, YouTube restored the video, but has not yet provided an explanation for its deletion and restoration.

Other accidental targets include a high-school history teacher, Scott Allsop, who used YouTube to share archive footage and materials to help his students learn about the past. Allsop’s channel was accidentally deleted in the purge, but later restored. Daryle Lamont Jenkins, director of anti-hate organisation One People’s Project, reported that one of his videos (informing viewers about how neo-Nazi flags originated in China) had been deleted.

The video journalist Ford Fischer, who reports on extremism in modern US politics on its News2Share YouTube channel, also found two of his videos being removed and his channel being demonetised for “harmful or hateful content”. Fischer told Common Dreams: “Their explanation was extremely vague and offered no specifics” and that he had not heard from YouTube since.

“What YouTube pretends not to understand is the difference between content that shows a Holocaust denier and content that denies the Holocaust,” he added.

While social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are under intense pressure to kick out Neo-Nazi content and other inappropriate content, attempts to do so have been criticised as clumsy or nearing censorship. The decision to remove all pornography from Tumblr using machine learning algorithms was mocked for causing photographs of entirely mundane objects to be flagged up and deleted as pornographic content.

In April, it was reported that Twitter engineers had suggested that using algorithms to automatically delete far-right content would prove unpalatable due to the likelihood of such an algorithm also targeting the tweets of prominent conservative US politicians.

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