YouTube has sought to justify a brief ban of News UK-owned digital station TalkRadio, overturned after just 12 hours, after accusing it of contradicting the World Health Organisation.Citing unspecified breaches of its community guidelines, the station, part of Rupert Murdoch’s TalkSport network, was silenced for hours before the dramatic U-turn.A TalkRadio spokesperson said: “We urgently await a detailed response from Google/YouTube about the nature of the breach that has led to our channel being removed from its platform. TalkRadio is an Ofcom-licensed and regulated broadcaster and has robust editorial controls in place, taking care to balance debate."
‘Big tech censorship’?
The incident throws a spotlight on the growing power wielded by 'big tech‘ to shape online debate, appaling digital rights campaign groups such as Big Brother Watch, which fears that censorship is ‘spiralling out of control‘.
Google-run YouTube subsequently explained that the ban arose from concerns over the stations Covid-19 coverage, which breached its house rules.
A statement read: “We quickly remove flagged content that violate our community guidelines, including Covid-19 content that explicitly contradict expert consensus from local health authorities or the World Health Organization. We make exceptions for material posted with an educational, documentary, scientific or artistic purpose, as was deemed in this case.“
Why it matters
YouTube’s vague response raises more questions than it answers, with no accompanying detail on the specific claims which brought about the ban nor its decision making processes.
In the absence of any official word, speculation has run rampant around the station’s reliance on interviewees delivering unorthodox claims, subsequently challenged by fact-checkers.
YouTube operates a three-strikes policy against channel owners, with an immediate permanent ban imposed on anyone exceeding this threshold over any 90-day period. Less severe infractions can carry temporary bans.
The video platform takes a particularly tough stance on ’medically unsubstantiated claims’ pertaining to Covid-19, cracking down on any content which contradicts the expert consensus of the NHS or World Health Organisation.
Responding to the incident TalkRadio said in a statement: “YouTube is making decisions about which opinions the public are allowed to hear, even when they are sourced to responsible and regulated new providers. This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate.“
TalkRadio has drawn government support for its predicament, with cabinet office minister Michael Gove defending its right to air unsubstantiated opinions, saying: “I don’t believe in censorship and we have a free and fair press, and we have commentators and interviewers of distinction who do criticise the government’s position.“
YouTube has significantly tightened its editorial policy in recent months in order to keep advertisers on-side as a safe space online. This double-barrel approach is backed by fact check functionality in the UK designed to debunk conspiracy theories which widely circulate on the platform.