In February 2021 independent news sources such as Progressive Soapbox, The Convo Couch, Franc Analysis, and Hannah Reloaded were demonetized by YouTube, the latest instance of YouTube penalizing independent and alternative voices by removing entire channels or videos with no explanation, raising concerns over censorship on the platform. YouTube told the creators that their channels contained videos that violated YouTube’s community guidelines, yet failed to inform them or comment on which content was in violation.
The demonetized videos and channels were made ineligible to receive advertising revenue, and some lost out on a share of subscription revenue from YouTube Premium as well.
With an unclear appeal process, it is unknown how long the accounts will remain deactivated. As Caitlin Johnstone explained in her February 5, 2021 article for Consortium News, “These accounts could remain demonetized for months, or forever, without any clear explanation at all.”
Other punitive measures from YouTube range from putting heavy restrictions on accounts to completely banning entire channels. After receiving YouTube’s notification, Progressive Soapbox tweeted, “You guys have destroyed my channel without legit explanation as to why. […] [F]rankly there is literally zero ‘harmful’ content on my channel.” Another victim of demonetization, comedian Graham Elwood, tweeted, “Nope. No superchats, no ad revenue, no YouTube premium money. Thanks Stalin I mean google.”
Ford Fischer, a freelance video journalist who has filmed US political demonstrations like the notorious Unite the Right rally, tweeted, “Last time you demonetized my channel, I spoke out for seven months. [. . .] Please don’t do this again.” According to a June 7, 2019 article in The Verge, Fischer’s channel, a channel run by a history teacher, and a video uploaded by the Southern Poverty Law Center were just a few of the scores of videos taken down shortly after YouTube made an announcement that it was implementing stronger measures against “videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.” Among the videos of Fischer’s that were banned were one featuring footage of white supremacist speaker Mike Enoch talking at an event in the lead-up to the Unite the Right rally and another about “pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups coming together to debate a holocaust denier.”
YouTube is a unique platform for independent voices, and this latest round of demonetization not only censors those voices but also, due to the resulting lack of funding, puts these smaller outlets under considerable financial distress.
As Johnstone pointed out in her article, “This has been a continually escalating trend for years. The general population is herded onto huge monopolistic social media platforms offering democratization of information where your voice can be heard, and then those platforms proceed to censor an increasing amount of political speech.”
A few corporate media outlets have mentioned similar deplatforming stories involving either YouTube’s demonetization of right-wing channels for disseminating hate speech or its suppression of specific videos as indecent or age-inappropriate. For instance, on October 27, 2020, the Hollywood Reporter published an article by Ashley Cullins about a group of 15 conservative YouTubers—with a combined audience of 4.5 million subscribers—who filed a lawsuit against the platform for deleting their channels. A widely circulated Fox News story from March 2021 criticized restrictions YouTube placed on a Bella Thorne music video featuring a tame simulated sex scene. Yet the Google-owned platform’s demonetization and muzzling of left-wing and progressive YouTubers has largely gone unremarked in the establishment press.
Caitlin Johnstone, “YouTube Financially Deplatforms Swath of Indie Media,” Consortium News, February 5, 2021.
Student Researchers: Trinity Marshall, Allison Okeley, and Mackenzie Bardol (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)
Faculty Evaluator: Helen K. Ho (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)
Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.