Free speech advocates who warned of the predictable consequences of allowing powerful tech companies to police online discourse seized on YouTube’s attempt Wednesday to purge hate speech from their video platform after creators performing public service journalism and education were swept up in the effort.
Wednesday’s purge came after days of sustained criticism over YouTube’s handling of bigoted content produced by fringe alt-right commentator Steven Crowder that targeted Vox media personality Carlos Maza. After nearly a week of online outrage, YouTube demonetized Crowder’s channel and then launched a site-wide cleanup of what the company defined as hate speech and targeted harassment.
But the purge also caught journalists and historians up in its wake as the tech giant’s heavy-handed response to Crowder’s harassment didn’t allow for context in most of the content.
The most prominent of those voices swept up in the purge thus far is Ford Fischer, a video journalist who reports on extremism in U.S. politics on his YouTube page, News2Share.
Fischer’s page was demonetized Wednesday at 1:25 PM for promoting “harmful or hateful content,” though what that content was is unclear, he told Common Dreams.
“Their explanation was extremely vague and offered no specifics,” said Fischer. “I haven’t heard from them since then.”
Youtube removed two videos six minutes prior to the demonetization move, said Fischer. One of the pair featured a Holocaust denier being yelled at by protesters on either side of a protest at AIPAC. Fischer believes it was removed “because one person in it was a Holocaust denier” with no consideration of context.
“What Youtube pretends not to understand is the difference between content that shows a Holocaust denier and content that denies the Holocaust,” said Fischer.
The other Fischer video removed featured comments from neo-Nazi Mike Enoch in a speech introducing Richard Spencer to a crowd of white nationalists at the Lincoln Memorial.
Fischer acknowledged that the videos include offensive language and themes. But, he said, that doesn’t mean they’re being endorsed by him—and, in the case of Enoch, Fischer was covering a news event.
“This content is evidently really important to understanding the complicated political moment we find ourselves in,” said Fischer.
That lack of understanding context was also on display when YouTube deleted historical content featuring images and video of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler that had been uploaded for educational purposes by teachers. The material, which was intended to educate the public on the dangers of fascism, instead was caught up in YouTube’s erasure of content.
In comment to The Guardian, teacher Scott Allsop, who had his material removed over the last 24 hours, said that YouTube’s heavy-handed tactics were causing more harm than good.
“It’s absolutely vital that YouTube work to undo the damage caused by their indiscriminate implementation as soon as possible,” Allsop said. “Access to important material is being denied wholesale as many other channels are left branded as promoting hate when they do nothing of the sort.”
As news of YouTube’s decision and the consequences for creators like Fischer spread online, a number of free speech advocates criticized the company and warned of the potential for a crackdown on the virtual public square by actors not constrained by the law and emboldened by shortsighted public support.
Progressive journalist Rania Khalek, herself no stranger to deplatforming, opined on Twitter that the purge could hurt independent journalists and media outlets.
“It’s interesting to me how mainstream media people are often insisting that we must do this to purge the far right, but it always ends up hurting independent journalists and leftists,” said Khalek. “Almost like those mainstream media folks want social media companies to erase their alternative media competition.”
The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald cited Fischer’s case as a prime example of why actions like YouTube’s purge are always destined to hurt those who don’t deserve it.
“Apparently, creating and implementing vague, arbitrary censorship standards on the fly in response to mob demands and then purging people en masse end up suppressing and punishing many voices that censorship advocates like,” said Greenwald. “Who could have guessed this would happen?”
In his comments to Common Dreams, however, Fischer was circumspect about where the lines need to be drawn.
“Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are private companies,” said Fischer. “Traditionally, we think of them as having the free speech right to allow or disallow whatever they like.”
That presents the question, said Fischer, of whether or not the companies have total discretion in policing the speech on their platform, or if those tech companies are now part of the public square—especially given their influence on elections and political discourse.
“Do these elements make them a public square, worthy of free speech rights for users?” wondered Fischer. “I struggle to answer that myself.”
Kanye ripped for latest Trump defense: Always someone willing to write a check to ‘a black person defending white supremacy’
A panel discussion on recent concerts put on by Kanye West in Salt Lake City and Howard University turned to his new recent comments he made defending his support for Donald Trump -- with one panelist saying the rapper is getting paid on the side for siding with the president.
Speaking with host Kendis Gibson, guests Danielle Moodie-Mills and Clay Cane were harshly critical of West trying to drum up black support for the president as well as his recent comments on slavery.
"What is going on here?" Gibson began. "So you saw the pictures of Kanye West in the middle of Salt Lake City. He drew about 10,000 people here at Howard University, it was a smaller crowd because they didn't get the e-mail about it until 6:00 a.m. on homecoming weekend. Largely, a lot of people who are going to these shows are black folks. These are some of the scenes in Salt Lake City, so people are wondering: is he sort of like Trump's secret weapon, a secret outreach to the black community? "
WATCH: White House protesters chant ‘impeach Trump’ loud enough for aides to hear
Protesters gathered in front of the White House on Sunday to call on President Donald Trump to be removed from office.
Videos circulated online showed protesters chanting "impeach Trump" close enough to the White House for staff to hear the demonstration.
In other videos, protesters were blowing loud whistles.
Meanwhile, demonstrators also greeted Trump as he visited his New Jersey golf course. Pro-impeachment protesters were also reportedly out on the streets in Boston and New York City.
Watch some of the video clips below.
Outside the White House right now:
Here are 3 moves a desperate Trump will likely attempt in order to cling to power
In a column for the Daily Beast, political observer Micheal Tomasky speculated -- and not without good reason -- that a frantic Donald Trump will do anything to remain in office and thereby avoid being slammed with criminal indictments once he departs the Oval Office for good..
As the columnist explained, impeachment seems inevitable and the president will likely take desperate measures and that he has already given hints about three paths he may take -- if not all of them.
Tomasky wrote, "It’s foolish to say that Trump thinks ahead about anything. The late journalist Wayne Barrett said many true things about Trump, but the truest ever was when he observed that Trump says whatever will get him through the next 10 minutes," before adding, "People around him of course are more strategic and are thinking ahead. And they’re all saying and doing and writing things right now that will, if the opportunity presents itself, pave the way for Trump to burn the Constitution."