Once again we are witnessing a tech company put profit above the safety of its users and elections and democracies around the globe. The only thing surprising about YouTube’s decision to let Donald Trump return to the platform is that it’s last in line, especially given its history of weak and inconsistent enforcement of its content rules when it comes to the politically powerful. When YouTube suspended Trump two years ago after he incited a violent insurrection, they didn’t even remove his incendiary videos. They just wouldn’t let him add more, but the videos inciting protests, declaring that the 2020 election was rigged, and Trump’s demonizing language of marginalized communities have been available all along. With Trump’s 2.6 million followers, YouTube’s move to welcome him back shows its willingness to be complicit in the spread of hate and extremism. Especially with the 2024 elections around the corner, how can YouTube be so sure that “the risk of violence has decreased.” After all there was political violence, such as the brutal assault on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, around the midterms and major law enforcement agencies still cite white supremacy as the number one domestic terrorist threat – a movement that includes groups that were inspired to violence by Trump in the January 6 insurrection.
In addition to Trump’s content leading up to the Jan. 6th insurrection, the company has a track record of allowing hate and disinformation to spread on the platform. For instance, since the racist Buffalo shooting, the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, a conspiracy that has motivated both that killing and other mass murders and dozens of deaths around the world has proliferated on the platform. Other politicians who are also given a pass on YouTube are some of the most dangerous purveyors of the replacement theory. For example, Rep. Brian Babin of Texas has a channel where he posts his TV appearances, including this Newsmax clip where he blatantly pushes the conspiracy. Another example is JD Vance of Ohio who posts his political ads, including this one that asks viewers if they hate Mexicans. None of these videos are flagged. One reason for this is YouTube’s misguided policy on politicians which allows violative content to remain if YouTube deems it educational, documentary/news, scientific or of artistic value. The implications of this decision are far-reaching, and will inspire authoritarian-leaning political figures around the world to continue using YouTube to build their hate-filled campaigns.
Politicians aren’t the only ones who get a pass. The extreme far-right purveyors of the replacement theory like Generation Identity (GI), a transnational white supremacist network that specifically targets young people for recruitment, have dozens of YouTube channels with hundreds of videos, some monetized.
YouTube needs to clean up its act. And the decision to let Trump back on is a step in the wrong direction. The bottom line is that Trump is a proven dangerous threat to our democracy. If that’s not enough for YouTube to continue to ban him, then what is? YouTube, like Facebook and Twitter under Elon Musk, has made a decision that could cause irreversible harm to democracies everywhere.