Far-right outlet Infowars made a short-lived return to YouTube on Thursday after its banishment last year, briefly illustrating social media‘s struggle to remove rule-breaking content while still maintaining a forum for free expression.
A channel, called The War Room, surfaced for a few hours and started posting new videos. It was unclear how they were posted.
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The relaunch of the channel coincided with a blog post earlier this week by YouTube’s chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, in which she called for allowing some controversial content to remain on YouTube in the interest of fostering a more informed society.
“It sometimes means leaving up content that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive,” wrote Ms Wojcicki. “But I believe that hearing a broad range of perspectives ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed society, even if we disagree with some of those views.”
Infowars did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The first video uploaded to the channel was available for about 17 hours, according to Vice, which first reported the news.
Thirteen videos were uploaded before the channel was removed. Vice said one of the videos was titled, “Breaking! YouTube CEO says ‘Alex Jones’ and ‘Infowars Ban Is Over’.” Ms Wojcicki’s letter did not mention Infowars or Jones.
In a statement, YouTube spokeswoman Ivy Choi said the company is “committed to preserving openness and balancing it with our responsibility to protect our community”.
She added that YouTube removed the War Room channel for violating its terms of service, but did not expand on why the channel had been permitted to relaunch, or what specifically led to its removal Thursday.
Social media companies in recent years have struggled to balance free speech with policing hate, violent crimes and other problematic content which show up on their sites. They have introduced new rules and banned a number of controversial figures from their platforms.
They have also hired thousands of contractors around the world to review and delete violent or offensive content, something that introduces its own problems, including the psychological toll on the contractors.
Still, policy violating content gets through, illustrated recently by grisly video recorded by the alleged perpetrator of March’s bloody massacres at two New Zealand mosques, which was published on YouTube and other social media platforms.
Google-owned YouTube, the world’s largest video platform with nearly two billion people logging in monthly, in particular has faced fierce backlash from critics who say it is enabling hateful and inappropriate content to proliferate.
With each crisis, YouTube has raced to update its guidelines for which types of content are allowed. But it has lagged behind Facebook and Twitter in hiring moderators, and has faced criticism for double standards when it comes to moderating content from its biggest stars.
Still, it has worked to strengthen its approach, including broadening its view of hate speech in its policies this summer, specifically banning videos that espouse racial supremacy or discrimination.
Ms Choi said YouTube counts on users to flag content that violates the company’s guidelines, and that the company removed 8.3 million videos in the first quarter of this year alone.
YouTube banned Jones in 2018, long before the company implemented its new policy. Jones is well-known for, among other things, espousing theories about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that caused survivors and their families to be harassed and threatened.
YouTube, along with Apple and Facebook, told news outlets at the time that Jones was banned for repeated community standards violations. Jones, in turn, accused the companies of censorship.
While having a “robust community” is a laudable goal for YouTube, the company’s actions on Thursday show that “platforms continue to be naive about how bad actors will exploit their words”, said Angelo Carusone, the president of liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America.