Social media sites like YouTube have come under increasing pressure in recent years from both legislators and the public to control some of the hateful and violent content that appears on their platforms. Some of the offenders under fire include terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda that spread their ideology, recruit new members and incite others to violence; others span the realm of bigotry from transphobic to racist and anti-Semitic hate.
Pressure increased further in March, when a mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, livestreamed the massacre of dozens of mosque worshippers in a video that took days to remove from the internet.
However, others have been caught in the crossfire, too, as YouTube sweeps with a heavy and indiscriminate hand. Fischer, an independent journalist and the founder of News2Share, told Radio Sputnik’s Fault Lines Thursday that this past summer, all his videos were demonetized, depriving them of the ability to generate income for him as people clicked to view them.
His appeals to YouTube have so far been in vain, but he says that mainstream media outlets that show the same footage don’t get punished the same way, and if they do, their appeals likely get quickly resolved.
[interview begins at 68:23]
“For a long time, YouTube has been continuing to clamp down on its community standards and broadening the definitions and the algorithms of what caused things to be automatically demonetized,” Fischer told hosts Lee Stranahan and Garland Nixon. “But four months ago, YouTube demonetized my entire channel, branding it ‘borderline content,’ because too much of it, they claim, is hateful or potentially violent or inciting.”
“Of course the actual channel, to people who aren’t familiar, is entirely just raw footage of news situations. So the channel itself has no ideology, let alone hateful ideology, but in some cases it’s documenting either people who are protesting against things that are hateful or video that would be of individuals who would be considered hateful. But of course again, CNN wouldn’t be punished for reporting on white nationalists, for example.”
Indeed, there’s no shortage of just that. From Atlantic interviews with white nationalist Richard Spencer to ABC’s coverage of a neo-Nazi forum, YouTube is littered with examples of mainstream media outlets providing far more than simply raw documentary footage, but a real platform for the ideas the social media site has punished others for displaying to viewers.
Of course, even if their entire accounts were demonetized, it might not significantly cut into the profits of those major news outlets who, like all YouTube users, pay nothing to have their material hosted on the site. However, for smaller outlets like News2Share or other independent journalists, demonetization can be financially catastrophic.
“Since it’s been demonetized in its entirety for four months, I’ve been more interested in the subject of demonetization,” Fischer said. “Two days ago, I was very interested to see there’s kind of this study done - not by academia but by YouTubers.”
Fischer noted how analyst YouTube Analyzed teamed up with YouTube channel Nerd City to put their findings into a video, which they published on Sunday.
Youtube won't tell us what causes demonetization.— 🤖NERD CITY💀 (@nerdcity) September 29, 2019
So we showed 15,296 words to their bots, and built a list of what they hate.https://t.co/LzzzvFlBjP
Share to help creators avoid yellow $ signs:https://t.co/thzSVSCvuP
Ft: @InternetsReal @sealow@commentiquette @realRUSTYCAGE pic.twitter.com/8egPVmoOtU
“Basically they have run an analysis where they made two-second videos with no actual content in them, so they were just testing metadata. They were just testing, ‘If we put in a description that says this, versus a description that says this, what will cause the words to be censored?’ So they did this very specific and precise study, and basically they were able to identify just shy of a thousand words that, on their own, will cause a video to be demonetized. Single-handedly, these words will increase chances of demonetization, usually to the point where it is demonetized,” Fischer explained.
So @nerdcity ran an analysis feeding terms to Youtube to see what would trigger automatic demonetization / “soft” censorship.— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) October 1, 2019
There are a lot of terms I could analyze in this content (particularly automatic discrimination against LGBT) but I wanna point out: “Palestine.” pic.twitter.com/ek5aQo0iMs
One more to take us full circle: Youtube will punish content creators using the term “Ukraine.” Right there next to “Uncle fucker.”— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) October 1, 2019
Consider that Ukraine will be a huge keyword of the news cycle going forward. Big mainstream channels will be exempt; indie channels won’t. pic.twitter.com/hdTjb25fYJ
Fischer noted the list contained “what you might expect … which to some extent could make sense,” such as swear words, if “a robot” is going to be used to monitor content on the site. “But a lot of these words are only sort of inappropriate in the context of someone intentionally trying to make something be inappropriate.”
“The word ‘Syria’ is on this list,” Fischer noted. “Just, on its own, the term ‘Syria’ is assumed to possibly be inappropriate. Someone could, I suppose, make some kind of terroristic content involving the word ‘Syria,’ but by and large, my guess is that a lot of news content deals with Syria. I have filmed anti-war rallies protesting against Donald Trump, for example, for launching weapons at Syria. I don’t believe that that should automatically be demonetized for that reason, but apparently YouTube is willing to take that loss.”
“I also see the word ‘Iraq.’ So between Iraq, Ukraine and Syria, the thing that I would point out about all those being demonetized is that these are all things that are very quintessentially in the news,” Fischer noted. “Foreign policy matters, you know, Donald Trump makes important decisions about these things all the time, and I can’t imagine that these rules are being equitably applied to CNN and Fox on YouTube.”
“This list, as much as people talk about bias against conservatives, bias against independent media - the other thing that this is highly biased against is LGBT people. On here are words that might be considered pejorative against LGBT folks,” Fischer said, noting that the words “trans,” “homosexual” and “gay” are all on the list, but “heterosexual” and “straight” aren’t. “So if someone is making an innocent video about LGBT issues - for example, a ‘coming out’ video, which is something that YouTube actually prides itself on the prominence of,” or LGBT-centered activism, he noted, “YouTube automatically believes that something like that is inappropriate.”