By Emma Fiala | Activist Post
Wednesday morning, news began circulating warning that YouTube was about to delete thousands of accounts in the platform’s latest wave of censorship. This time, the massive video sharing platform claimed to be targeting hateful content, “supremacists,” conspiracy theorists and anything that promotes discrimination or segregation based on sexual orientation, religion, race, gender, age and more.
Upon hearing the news, regular consumers of independent media knew exactly what to expect: Censorship. Corporate platforms use these vague terms that sound nice in theory to cast a wide net that also de-platforms independent, anti-war, and rational voices. Whether this is done on purpose or is a consequence of using artificial intelligence and algorithms to monitor content remains to be seen.
YouTube claims to have made the decision following a review of its own rules on hateful content. In a blog post, the platform wrote:
Today, we’re taking another step in our hate speech policy by specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.
The announcement continued:
We will begin enforcing this updated policy today; however, it will take time for our systems to fully ramp up and we’ll be gradually expanding coverage over the next several months.
YouTube’s blog post continued:
The openness of YouTube’s platform has helped creativity and access to information thrive. It’s our responsibility to protect that, and prevent our platform from being used to incite hatred, harassment, discrimination, and violence.
We are committed to taking the steps needed to live up to this responsibility today, tomorrow and in the years to come.
According to YouTube, users should anticipate changes that will alter what content is populated in the “up next” sidebar and the ability for users to earn ad revenue by promoting harmful content. The platform also hinted that it will attempt to work with affected users who make content that is useful to researchers.
Shortly after news spread that a YouTube crackdown was on the horizon and the policy began taking effect, YouTube content creators swept up in the crackdown began receiving emails from YouTube and immediately sharing their frustrations—and their screenshots—on social media.
James Allsup, a history teacher from the British School of Bucharest, was banned for “hate speech.” According to a tweet, the teacher’s “channel featured around 120 historical clips I collated for teachers and students, covering various aspects of world history over the past 1000 years. The Nazi material made up around 10% of all videos.”
Deep Fat Fried Podcast, which calls itself “an educational show made by and for the uneducated,” was demonetized for “hate speech.”
According to Dan Dicks, Press for Truth was demonetized as well.
According to Buzzfeed, demonetized users included “James Allsup, Austrian Identitarian Martin Sellner, Swedish white nationalists Red Ice TV, and Swedish white nationalist bodybuilder Marcus Follin” as well as Jesse Lee Peterson, a conservative minister who created videos of Rep. Ilhan Omar and more.
Others had videos deleted, including “far-right personality Gavin McInnes and unsuccessful European parliamentary candidate Mark Meechan.” And still others, including neo-Nazi channels Thulean Perspective and The Great Order as well as history teacher Scott Allsop, had their accounts completely removed.
Also swept up in the chaos was a channel dedicated to documenting—without opinion or bias—some of the most important events currently happening in the United States. Immediately after being informed via email that his channel was demonetized and his livelihood ruined, News2Share’s editor-in-chief Ford Fischer took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.
Not long after—and on his day off to boot—News2Share producer Alejandro Alvarez got wind of the situation.
As a documentary journalist, Fischer did what he does best and began documenting the extensive history of News2Share along with evidence that the purpose of his channel is merely to document current events for the purpose of understanding those events and provide critical analysis.
While YouTube’s email to Fischer informing him of News2Share’s demonetization claims “our team of policy specialists carefully looked over the videos you’ve uploaded to your channel News2Share. We found that a significant portion of your channel is not in line with our YouTube Partner Program policies,” their other emails seemed to say otherwise.
The platform removed only two of News2Share’s many thousands of videos. According to Fischer, the first video was that of Jason Charter and Antifa activists confronting a Holocaust denier. The Holocaust denier, not unexpectedly, says things in denial of the Holocaust. At no time during the filming did Fischer agree with or promote those statements—instead he captured raw video of the interaction.
The second video flagged by YouTube was, once again, raw footage of an actual event with no additional commentary from Fischer that News2Share approved of or otherwise promoted what was being said. Fischer filed Mike Peinovich speaking at the event, footage that was eventually used in a PBS documentary that Fischer associate produced.
And what’s more, Fischer’s footage from that very same event was used in the Emmy-winning film White Right: Meeting the Enemy.
Fischer went on to list the many outlets, films and others that have licensed his work that they found, more often than not, on YouTube. In addition to News2Share’s footage and still images being used by local and national news outlets, the outlet’s footage has been used in the New York Time‘s documentary How an Alt-Right Leader Lied to Climb the Ranks, the Document Hate series on PBS, Breaking Hate, and many more.
A quick glance at Fischer’s IMDB profile puts to rest any question of whether or not the work of News2Share is valid and necessary.
The Mind Unleashed had a chance to speak with Fischer about Wednesday’s events, the precedent it sets, and his next steps.
So you’ve been demonetized—how do you feel?
Bad. It’s totally unacceptable, and misguided. I honestly feel that YouTube may have taken a misguided and ill-informed step here. People on all sides of the political spectrum have been speaking out about the absurdity of the whole thing. Even those who want to see extremist content removed seem not to want it executed in a way that removes content that covers extremism.
Did YouTube give you any warning?
No, I was completely not expecting it. In fact, I believe YouTube actually told a lot of the mainstream media about this, with an embargo, because I saw a story published that said something to the effect of “many YouTube channels are about to go down.” And I saw it pretty much immediately when someone published it, and I actually posted it, not having any idea that I would be one such channel. And I captioned it something like “YouTube is about to do another purge. What do you think?” Again, I had no idea that it would be me.
So literally minutes later, after I refreshed my email I see that I have three emails from YouTube—Two emails declaring specific videos inappropriate and that they are deleted—unappealable, by the way. And a third one saying that you’re entire channel is no longer eligible for monetization.
I was not expecting that at all.
Have you been affected in the past by demonetization or censorship on YouTube?
Yes, my channel has already faced demonetization, mostly based on an algorithm, where individual videos would be demonetized based on keywords. I recently covered March to Impeach, it was some progressive, Democrat type activists that are saying, “We should impeach Donald Trump” and they’ve got a list of reasons why they think we should do that, and I’m just out there filming. Whether I think Trump should be impeached is irrelevant.
But then some MAGA people came out and started counter-demonstrating. Since there was so much content, I actually made two videos about the event—one was about the people protesting to impeach Trump, the other was “MAGA Activists Confront March to Impeach Trump.”
Interestingly, and I’m not necessarily accusing them here, YouTube automatically demonetized the MAGA one and allowed the monetization of the other one. Little did I know, it wouldn’t matter anymore because everything is demonetized now.
Does any of this come as a surprise to you?
I always believed that YouTube was going to tighten its grip and widen its algorithm to make more and more content demonetized, but I didn’t think I was going to have an outright monetization ban, where all of my content, even a video of Nancy Pelosi saying something like “let’s have more gun control”—the most uncontroversial, mainstream event… that every single video regardless of content would be demonetized. I didn’t anticipate that happening.
You’re documenting real-life events, YouTube is clearly wrong here. Is there an appeal process and, if so, do you plan to appeal their decision?
There isn’t. They’re giving me a month to “review” my content, see if I can figure out what the problem is, and reapply for monetization in a month as if I’m a new application. So it’s not appealing their decision, their decision is not appealable.
But if I figure out what they don’t like, just by guessing, and then delete it… if I can self-censor adequately by that time, then they would allow me to be remonetized. But there are no specifics.
Self-censorship… That’s interesting because that’s what we’ve all been dealing with on other platforms. We’re not getting any information or feedback about what has been done wrong—you just know that you get some sort of strike against your page and then you start self-censoring so it doesn’t happen again, even though you have virtually no information to work with. No one wants to self-censor, but we want to stay on these platforms, so you inevitably start self-censoring. It’s really frustrating and crazy that a company like YouTube cannot give you any more information.
Are you going to attempt to reapply for monetization?
Yes, I suppose that I will probably attempt to, but frankly, they haven’t offered any sort of guidance. They took down two videos but their email to me says that “a sizeable” portion of my YouTube channel is ineligible. So I don’t know what exactly they consider unworthy. Are pro-Trump activists inappropriate? Are my videos, literally raw footage of President Trump speaking, are those inappropriate?
Are you hopeful in the re-application process?
I will probably do whatever they offer, but unless they change something, unless the public outcry over this subject helps me in a significant way where YouTube actually does something, I’m not incredibly confident that I’ll be able to fix this.
That is a problem across all platforms—I’ve seen it commented on some of your posts today—that algorithms, that AI, is deciding what is right or wrong and there is no human part of the process.
Obviously, there are controversial things in your videos—you are documenting real life. You don’t have a show where you’re sharing your opinion, you’re just documenting. It’s extra maddening that it happened to you. You do a really great job of getting both sides of the very issue while not giving your own opinion. And honestly, that can sometimes be frustrating to your fans who do have a strong opinion on where you should be spending your time.
Something I want to emphasize is, even if the right-wing has sort of adopted big tech censorship as their issue, I do not consider myself to be right-wing politically. And also this is something that a lot of very very lefist and quite liberal journalists are kind of coming out in support of.
And, in fact, even the two people who were feuding with each other and actually caused YouTube to do all of this, Stephen Crowder and Carlos Maza, both of them tweeted saying I got caught in the crossfire. So these two people, who literally hate each other so much that they ruined the Internet, both agree that I am not the person who should have been punished for whatever was going on.
It’s maddening that companies as big as YouTube and Facebook can’t spend a few minutes to tell you what you’ve done wrong, or even warn you before going so far as to delete, demonetize, or shadowban. Back in October when pages and journalists were purged from Facebook, there was an appeal process but few people actually heard anything back. This is your livelihood, the fact that you cannot respond and don’t have an appeal process with YouTube is absurd.
It’s infuriating, especially because when Carlos Maza said that he wasn’t happy with what YouTube had done, YouTube replied to him! YouTube replied to his tweet saying “This is what Stephen Crowder specifically needs to do in order to get his monetization back.” But they’ve offered me no such human contact.
With only two videos flagged, how do you think News2Share got so caught up in this to have all videos demonetized?
Well, they haven’t taken my whole channel down. They don’t believe that it’s an extremist propaganda channel, or else they’d get rid of it. I think they basically had oversight or a mistake.
Your work has been featured in everything from professional documentaries to the nightly news. Do they find your work on YouTube?
Yes, they usually find me on YouTube. This is my business—it’s not just about demonetization. This is a step toward the outright loss of the channel. If they can do this very arbitrarily, what’s to say they wouldn’t go ahead and take down the whole thing? YouTube is critical to the licensing of my footage.
How big of a part of your regular income was from YouTube ad revenue?
As an independent news producer, I don’t have any salary whatsoever. I live in DC and travel the country covering activism because I think it’s important—especially in this political moment—to have raw documentation of everything that goes on. Licensing happens sometimes, but ad revenue is consistent—I’ve never had a day where somebody wasn’t watching a video of mine. Ad revenue has been the most consistent form of income I’ve had. And it’s gone.
Where can our readers find your content, besides on YouTube?
I post regularly on the main mainstream social media outlets because I believe in diversifying. If I put it in more places, more people have the opportunity to see it. So I do have Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—the mainstream ones. But the place that I’m relying on, from now on, that I’m going to basically put all of my content on, is Minds, which is an anti-censorship sort of equivalent to the functionality of Facebook and YouTube and, to some extent, Twitter.
How can our readers support you?
They can support me at Patreon.com/FordFischer or at Paypal via firstname.lastname@example.org.
It remains to be seen if YouTube will offer any additional information or a pathway to re-monetization for News2Share or other channels wrongly affected. But regardless of what happens next, it quickly became clear on Wednesday that both Ford Fischer and News2Share have supporters around the world who aren’t going to sit idly by as YouTube erases one of the best efforts that exists today when it comes to documenting the current state of the United States.
As of the writing of this article, at least one deleted YouTube channel has been reinstated. According to a tweet from James Allsup, his history channel is back, though some videos are not flagged and one was removed.
News2Share is an online media outlet based in Washington D.C. that documents real events in real time, giving just enough commentary on what is happening to let viewers know what is being recorded. Video from Ford Fischer has been featured on CNN, Fox, PBS, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, BBC, and more. It is wrong of YouTube to do this.
The independent media needs Ford Fischer to continue documenting real world events, so let’s all support him before the next shots are fired in this war on journalism.
By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com
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