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YouTube boots journalists seeking to expose white supremacists and extremism

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.”

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Carl Bernstein: There are 7-9 ‘wobbly’ Republicans who want witnesses but Mitch McConnell is trying to block them

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In a CNN panel discussion Wednesday, notorious Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein revealed that there are seven to nine Republican senators who are wavering after the compelling argument that the House has provided for the impeachment. The problem, however, is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow any break from the party line.

"I think this is a hugely damaging narrative that was laid out today, and that Mitch McConnell understands, and has understood for a while that this hugely damaging narrative was going to affect his members," said Bernstein. "And that his strategy -- I've talked to some Republicans about this -- #MidnightMitch is to wear out his own members so that they don't vote for more witnesses because there are six, seven, eight, nine wobbly Republicans."

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Republican Kevin McCarthy gets taken down by former top GOP colleague

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was attacked by a former Republican colleague who alleged McCarthy and his fellow members of Congress have allowed the House GOP to become the official shill for the White House.

In a profile for the New York Times, former Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) shamed the GOP House for the way that a once-respectable institution has fallen.

“Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,” said Davis. “He is made for that role.”

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Former senator reveals to Maddow how one brave Democrat can reveal key document in impeachment trial

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Near the end of Wednesday's impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that an agreement had been made to allow senators to read supplemental testimony from Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.

The document will remain classified, despite claims that there is no classified material in the document, only evidence that is damning to the president.

"In terms of this document potentially being improperly classified, which is something that has been raised in writing by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and raised on the floor of the Senate tonight by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)," MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted. "Obviously, it was the vice president's office that said it was classified, they are getting publicly criticized for that. If it has been improperly classified and it should be something that the public can see, who adjudicates that?"

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