By Jeff Knox
(September 7, 2018) Anyone who watches videos on YouTube is well aware that the video hosting service, owned by Google, has been slowly choking off channels and content providers who don’t comport with the Google leadership’s leftist worldview. It started a few years ago when “traditional media” – particularly newspapers – began going after some of YouTube’s biggest stars by publicizing their incomes, and highlighting examples of them presenting off-color and potentially racist content, with major advertisers like Coca-Cola appearing as the content’s sponsor.
What this actually boiled down to was “traditional media” trying to recapture some of those advertising dollars by scaring the advertisers away from the new frontier of unregulated content.
It worked, to a degree. Major sponsors, who were actually sponsoring the platform, not specific content, backed away, costing Google hundreds of millions of dollars, just as the platform was moving into a position of profitability. Instead of standing by their policy of offering an open hosting service with few restrictions on content, and offering their advertisers ways to more selectively tailor their ad placement, Google blocked and “demonetized” wide swaths of channels that they deemed “inappropriate” for commercial sponsorship – including most channels with any sort of firearm-related content.
After months of wrangling and policy shifts, the YouTube universe began to settle in and normalize somewhat. Many channels that had been riding on the ragged edge of YouTube’s loose guidelines, like channels offering “health videos” of young women demonstrating yoga “au natural” and those presenting overtly racist content like neo-nazi channels, were either barred altogether, or were placed under tight restrictions that made them difficult to find or view, and kept them far away from any advertisers’ dollars or commercials. But other channels with content that most people would consider non-controversial, were also “demonetized,” moved out of the main viewing areas, and left with far fewer viewers and far fewer advertiser dollars, if any. These included gun channels, along with all sorts of channels that present “conservative” views.
Even channels that are funded by direct sponsorship have been hurt due to shifts in the way YouTube presents options to viewers. Originally, the platform would track a viewer’s channel preferences and at the end of each video, the system would offer up a dozen other videos that matched that viewer’s apparent interests. If you watched a lot of shooting or hunting videos, the system would suggest more shooting and hunting videos for you to look at, along with a few “trending” videos that the system determined were popular with other people with similar viewing preferences. If you watched conservative news channels like Bill Whittle and Ben Shapiro, the system would suggest other conservative news videos that might interest you, and if you subscribed to particular channels, those channels’ new offerings would always be at the top of your menu list. But as YouTube shifted their suggestion system, gun channels and conservative news channels became less and less likely to show up in a viewer’s suggestion list, resulting in fewer and fewer new viewers. And of course, fewer views means less money from advertisers, even if they are direct sponsors.
In recent months the restrictions and limitations have been escalating again. New restrictions on types of firearm-related content allowed on the platform have been implemented, barring any links to firearm or ammunition sales, forbidding any demonstrations of firearm manufacture, assembly, or modification, and labeling most firearm-related content as inappropriate for viewers under 18 years of age. They are also “cracking down” on “hate speech,” which can include anything from racist rants and Holocaust denial to scientific discussion of sex and gender, or Biblical discussion of homosexuality as a sin. Some, such as videos from PragerU.com, have been restricted on what appears to be purely political grounds. There also appears to be a new shift in the way the system makes viewing suggestions, feeding “conservative” viewers more “conservative” content, but only after they have demonstrated a strong leaning in that direction. This feeds an echo-chamber effect, providing “conservatives” with only “conservative” content, and presumably providing “liberals” with only “liberal” content, while continuing to suppress “conservative” content from the masses.
Various efforts have been put forward to provide a platform for “conservative” and firearm-related content, but most of these efforts are misguided, because they are designed to only reach audiences that specifically seek out that type of content. The magic and power of YouTube was that one interest could lead a person into new areas that they had never considered before. Watching a video on blacksmithing could trigger a suggestion of a video on engraving, which could lead to viewing a video on classic firearms, leading to a video of Jerry Miculek firing 12 shots from a 6-shot revolver in under 3 seconds (reload included), which might lead to a series of videos on IDPA and USPSA competition and a new firearm enthusiast is born. Those viewers might never bother to seek out a shooting channel, but when the shooting video is presented next to some other interest, they have the opportunity to explore that new idea. That’s why the rapid deterioration of YouTube is such a problem, and why single-focus alternatives are not a solution.
Instead of various marginalized groups trying to create narrowly focused platforms for their content, these groups should be teaming with other liberty-minded groups and individuals to create a truly open, lightly regulated, free speech platform where content creators can be judged by the public, not by the political whims of a few San Francisco billionaires.
Firearms groups and creators, conservative and libertarian groups and creators, gamers, wrench-benders, homesteaders, fabricators, free speech advocates, religious advocates, and others concerned with liberty, need to join together to build an open-source, video hosting platform that’s dedicated to freedom of speech. It would be a massive undertaking, but something needs to break the grip of Google and YouTube.