While social-media platforms like Twitter crack down on abuse from alt-right accounts, YouTube is defending hosting propaganda videos from extremist groups that have been kicked off other sites.
Neo-Nazi groups like the Atomwaffen Division still have active YouTube presences, despite YouTube users reporting the videos for violating the site’s policies against hate speech. YouTube knows about the videos—and it’s keeping them up, the site told The Daily Beast.
Atomwaffen has been implicated in five murders from May 2017 to January 2018. The latest killing, that of a gay, Jewish college teenager, was celebrated by Atomwaffen online, ProPublica reported last week.
Despite new scrutiny of Atomwaffen, the group’s YouTube channel is still active and promoting the group’s message, Vice first reported this weekend. YouTube users have already flagged Atomwaffen videos as violating the site’s terms of service; the group’s recruitment videos are preceded by a YouTube message warning that “the following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”
But when asked about Atomwaffen and another neo-Nazi group that uses YouTube to target minorities, YouTube indicated that it would not be blocking the accounts.
“We announced last June that we would be taking a tougher stance on videos that are borderline against our policies on hate speech and violent extremism by putting them behind a warning interstitial and removing certain features, such as recommended videos and likes,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Monday. “We believe this approach strikes a good balance between allowing free expression and limiting affected videos’ ability to be widely promoted on YouTube.”
It’s a fix Southern Poverty Law Center analyst Keegan Hankes calls “limited state” videos.
“I think limited state is a good solution for certain types of videos. I say ‘certain types’ because I think it’s not a good solution for Atomwaffen propaganda,” Hankes told The Daily Beast. He added that he would expect a limited state solution for less explicitly violent white-nationalist videos.
Other social-media companies’ terms of service “have a provision saying ‘if your group is leading to violence in the real world, that factors against you in your review process. Atomwaffen’s had five different murders associated with it in the last few months,” Hankes said, “so it’s a surprising outcome for a group that extreme. We’re talking about a network of radical terror cells. That’s how they set up their organization.”
YouTube’s decision appears to fly in the face of its policy against hate speech that “refers to content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes, such as: race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, sexual orientation/gender identity.”
Atomwaffen’s YouTube recruitment videos, which call for genocide, fit the criteria. In one video, uploaded weeks after the alleged Atomwaffen murder of a Jewish teenager, Atomwaffen members shout “gas the kikes, race war now,” before firing semi-automatic weapons.
YouTube also indicated it would not take further action against a channel operated by the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group whose members were at the center of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August. The account has nearly 75,000 views on a single primer on Nazi ideology that encourages people to work “against the international Jew.”
Other social-media outlets have cracked down on far-right (but considerably less extreme) accounts. In December, Twitter banned the Traditionalist Worker Party as part of clean-up effort against racist extremists. Atomwaffen encourages its members to keep the group’s message off social media altogether, ProPublica reports, and does not appear to have an official Twitter presence.
But YouTube, where both groups have taken a public stand, appears to be the exception. The site’s algorithmic recommendations also send watchers down a rabbit hole of other extremist propaganda. Although YouTube said it removed recommended videos on some of the groups’ uploads, the recommended videos still show up in Traditionalist Worker Party clips. The group’s widely viewed intro to “National Socialism” recommends viewers watch videos titled “Are Africans a Different Subspecies?” and “The Hitler Speech They Don’t Want You to Hear.”
Recommended videos appear blocked on all or most of Atomwaffen’s uploads, but the group’s homepage automatically recommends other extremist YouTubers in under a “related channels” banner.
And both groups’ YouTube pages link out to their other online platforms, where both feature a button at the top of their websites: “join.”