YouTube "permanently" bans media watchdog group Right Wing Watch — then changes its mind

YouTube briefly bans group for reposting far-right videos — while leaving actual far-right groups untouched

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published June 29, 2021 6:00AM (EDT)

YouTube logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
YouTube logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The media watchdog group Right Wing Watch (RWW), which monitors and publicizes the activity of far-right political organizations, was "permanently" suspended from YouTube on Monday over multiple (but unspecified) violations of the platform's community guidelines. This presumably occurred because RWW frequently reposts videos originally posted by right-wing activist groups, some of them overtly white supremacist or fascist in nature. Ironically enough, as RWW pointed out, most of those groups have retained their YouTube channels.

By Monday evening, YouTube appeared to have grasped the unfortunate optics of this decision and reversed it, even after RWW's initial appeal had been denied. 

This development was first announced by RWW on Monday and later reported extensively by The Daily Beast"Our efforts to expose the bigoted views and dangerous conspiracy theories spread by right-wing activists has now resulted in @YouTube banning our channel and removing thousands of our videos," RWW tweeted. "We attempted to appeal this decision, and YouTube rejected it."

Screenshots posted by RWW reveal that the Google-owned platform found "severe or repeated violations" of its community guidelines, but did not specify which videos RWW had posted were flagged as violations or exactly why. 

When pressed for comment on RWW's suspension, a Google spokesperson eventually notified Salon that the account had been restored. "Right Wing Watch's YouTube channel was mistakenly suspended," the spokesperson told Salon in a statement, "but upon further review, has now been reinstated." The enormous volume of content on the site, according to YouTube, can lead to judgment errors by moderators — and also, it would seem, to a perfunctory or haphazard appeals process.

Kyle Mantyla, who reports for RWW, told Salon that the suspension, sudden as it was, was "not surprising." 

"We've had problems for years with YouTube mistakenly flagging our videos as violating their community guidelines," he said in an interview. "They seem to be fundamentally unable to distinguish between people who are saying these things and people who are exposing these things."

Mantyla told Salon that RWW received two "strikes" from YouTube in April over videos it reposted from right-wing sources that featured falsehoods about the 2020 election and misinformation on the COVID pandemic. In response, the watchdog held off on posting more videos until the strikes expired. The supposedly permanent suspension came after RWW received a third strike, when YouTube flagged material posted eight years ago. 

Mantyla added that some of the original sources from which RWW's videos had been clipped remain active on the site, despite unambiguous violations of YouTube's policies. 

Right Wing Watch was founded in 2007 by the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way in an effort to monitor and catalogue right-wing extremism in American media. RWW played a key role in publicizing the material of Alex Jones, a far-right host of "Infowars" who was banned from YouTube in 2018 for propagating conspiracy theories. 

Last week, YouTube also targeted Salon reporter Zachary Petrizzo, whose account was suspended for seven days over a video that apparently violated the platform's community guidelines. The situation seemed similar to that of Right Wing Watch, if on a smaller scale: Petrizzo posted a clip from a One America News Network (OAN) broadcast in which host Pearson Sharp appeared to call for the mass execution of Donald Trump's opponents. 

Asked for comment on his temporary banishment while reporting a story on pro-Trump far-right activists, Petrizzo said, "YouTube should learn the difference between a sledgehammer and a scalpel."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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Brief Censorship Free Speech Oan Right Wing Watch Social Media Youtube Zachary Petrizzo