YouTube quickly apologizes for suspending left-wing website

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Oops, they did it again. YouTube is continuing to enforce their policy of defining what ideas are acceptable to appear on their site and which ones are “dangerous misinformation.” Anyone creating content that includes a discussion of any information that falls into the latter category will find their videos removed and their account suspended. This vaguely defined category can generally be boiled down to a description of “things liberals don’t like.” But sometimes the platform is a bit off in their aim, it seems.

If you’re familiar with a group called “Right Wing Watch,” you likely know that it’s composed of a pack of self-appointed “fact-checkers” who exclusively check conservative outlets to “highlight” whatever it is that they feel is outrageous or offensive. This leads them to post quite a bit of that content on their YouTube channel. Well, the automated system at YouTube must have detected something in one of their video descriptions that triggered the anti-conservative sensing algorithm because three of RWW’s videos were flagged and their account was suspended. That didn’t last for long, however, because after being notified who it was that had been banned, they quickly restored the account and apologized. (The Hill)

YouTube reinstated the channel Right Wing Watch on Monday, saying it “mistakenly” suspended the account, which focuses on monitoring conservative groups and figures.

“Right Wing Watch’s YouTube channel was mistakenly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated,” a YouTube spokesperson said in a statement.

Right Wing Watch tweeted screenshots Monday from YouTube messages notifying the group that its channel had been suspended over community guideline violations, and that an appeal to the suspension had been denied.

There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to highlight this story for our readers because it’s certainly heightened my curiosity. My first question has less to do with the actual story and more with The Hill’s coverage of it. I couldn’t help but notice that they put scare quotes around the word “mistakenly” in both the article title and the first paragraph. Why? Is it because the editors were skeptical as to whether or not this was an actual mistake, or were they simply attempting to indicate that the word “mistakenly” was part of a quote in the response from YouTube?

Personally, I’m leaning more toward the skeptical angle, which brings us to my second point. I was offering the benefit of the doubt above when I suggested that an automated algorithm had flagged RWW’s video. While that’s still possible, if they get enough complaints about a particular channel they could still dispatch someone to investigate it and make a decision, even if hadn’t tripped any flags.

But let’s just assume for the moment that it was an automated flag. RWW appealed the decision and received a response from YouTube saying that the appeal had been reviewed and they had decided to leave the account in suspended status. That means one of two things. Either a human being at YouTube looked over the channel and decided they were in violation of the rules (and was later overridden by someone else) or their appeals system is also automated. And if that’s the case, there’s no reason to bother appealing anything unless you have such a high-profile account that your supporters can cause headaches for YouTube on other social media platforms.

The final thing I wanted to address here is the nature of the rules being enforced. We don’t know which “offensive” conservative content RWW was flagged for, but that really shouldn’t matter. Let’s say it was some conservative suggesting that the novel Coronavirus might have originated in a laboratory in Wuhan. (You could be banned for that up until just the past couple of weeks.) If that “dangerous knowledge” is too toxic for the conservative site to post, how is it less “dangerous” when RWW posts it for the purpose of “calling out” the conservatives? The viewer still winds up seeing it either way and would still be “at-risk” of possibly thinking that it makes sense.

With that in mind, if the original content was in violation of the guidelines, RWW’s video should have been also. So no apology would have been due and the account should still be suspended, right? But I’ll offer up a third possibility. What if YouTube really felt that RWW should be suspended but they were suddenly flooded with emails from angry liberals? I’d be willing to bet that someone at YouTube realized that they had just ticked off their own team (the liberals) and they rushed into damage control mode in a way that they would never do for a conservative channel. I would be interested in hearing more from them on this issue.