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Friday, April 23, 2021

YouTube reverses course on conspiracy videos

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YouTube’s new policy against videos that propagate conspiracy theories started with QAnon.

The QAnon conspiracy theories that are gaining the most traction on YouTube probably wouldn’t get past the site’s algorithm — the system that scans YouTube for videos it considers to be informative, from the mundane to the risqué, and packages them as what it calls “channels,” one of which is Q.

So when it asked conspiracy theorists earlier this year to be part of its new “YouTube Creators Academy,” they were told to refer to it as a “video-class,” so as not to raise alarm in the burgeoning community of QAnon. Instead of answering questions on the course, any skeptical video would be labeled “Watch this video to learn the truth” in the FAQ section.

After the first month of the course, YouTube even rewarded one of the most active QAnon channels with a slot at the academy. Other conspiracy bloggers have since been featured there, and the program has continued to grow since.

But last week, YouTube changed its tune. According to YouTube product manager Alon Avidan, the second time this question was posted, the QAnon videos were passed for the first time.

“It’s not about infringing rights,” Avidan wrote in a blog post, “because what you are saying in these videos has value in its own right.”

That is, QAnon-ters are able to legitimately advertise the fact that they are in touch with the conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino, without worrying about violating any particular copyright laws. The site won’t allow conspiracy videos “diametrically opposed” to any particular conspiracy theory to be promoted.

“Like any policy that addresses hate speech and dangerous content, we must take into account broader standards of free speech, not only within our community, but also on the edges of the platform,” Avidan added.

According to Avidan, YouTube believes that it is exercising its “first amendment rights” by not taking any action against the video, even though it is mischaracterizing it as inflammatory fake news.

But conspiracy theorists are outraged, arguing that because YouTube’s AdSense advertising system recognizes videos that are altered (or simply not watched for more than 15 seconds), the videos are essentially endorsements.

“It’s time for us to wake up,” Mr. Bongino told Buzzfeed News, “and take QAnon seriously as a political action, instead of a joke.”

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