While consistency and communication have never been YouTube's strong suits, they've traditionally been known for being one of the best avenues for free speech; but by succumbing to the whims of a select few advertisers and censoring content willy-nilly that they deem "unsuitable," does YouTube's new censorship stance threaten free speech?
A couple weeks ago, YouTuber Godless Cranium put out a video titled "Imagine a World." It wasn't hate-filled, it didn't mock or promote violence, and it certainly didn't tell anyone what to believe or not believe. When it comes to videos discussing religious harm, this was about as vanilla as you can get. It was simply a collaboration of non-religious YouTubers asking viewers to imagine what a world without religion would look like. Unfortunately, within a few days, someone false-flagged the video.
Now at this point, the solution should have been simple: submit it to YouTube for manual review/approval. Godless Cranium did just that, but within a few days, he received an official email from YouTube stating that they supported the flagging of the video. It was demonetized, YouTube stated they would not promote or recommend the video at all, comments and upvotes were disabled, and it was blocked in nearly 30, mostly European, countries.
Knowing that there was nothing offensive in the video, but lacking any other recourse, Godless Cranium posted the following tweet requesting other YouTubers to mirror the video.
If anyone wants to mirror the video that was false flagged and limited in several countries for imagining a world without religion, please feel free to do so. @holykoolaid @nf_reece @InaneDragon @gm_skeptic @ihateu310 @SavageAtheist @EmperorAtheist @zoedoeslife pic.twitter.com/eU2EjudpLE
— Godless Cranium (@Can_Atheist) December 12, 2017
Since I had been one of the YouTubers in the original video, I uploaded it to my channel with a short intro explaining why I was mirroring the video. Other than that, the content was identical - no cuts, no edits, no censorship. I clicked upload and waited - expecting to get flagged or at least demonetized. Sure enough before the video was even public, YouTube's auto-demonetization bots deemed the video to not be "advertiser friendly." I was expecting as much, but what happened next completely surprised me. After submitting it to YouTube for manual review, my mirror of Godless Craniums video was manually approved by YouTube!
My video racked up over 10,000 views, 360+ comments, and 1,000 likes in just a couple days. Meanwhile, Godless Cranium's original upload sits in censored obscurity:
In summary, YouTube claimed to have manually reviewed both Godless Craniums video and my identical, un-censored mirror of the same exact video and came to two different decisions. Does YouTube have zero guidelines or sense of consistency? Did Godless Cranium's appeal get rejected because he has "Godless" in his channel name and someone at YouTube hates atheists? Did I just get lucky with who happened to be reviewing videos that day? Or since his video was manually flagged, does YouTube take the lazy stance of assuming guilt until proven innocent, rather than innocence until proven guilty? Whatever the answer is, the system is broken, atheists like Godless Cranium, who are attempting to push the conversation forward, are suffering as a result of it, and worse, free speech on YouTube no longer seems free.