Today, YouTube removed Lauren Southern’s new documentary Borderless from its platform, less than 24 hours after Southern made it available to the general public. No explanation was given.
Because no explanation has to be given.
Perhaps we should change that.
IT’S A CIVIL RIGHT.
The deletion of Southern’s film is contemptible, but it’s also revealing; it demonstrates exactly why it’s time to make platform access a civil right.
Southern’s documentary was not a simple project; she and her team worked on the film for months. Moreover, her team was careful to be charitable to opposing views, and the film includes plenty of fair, objective interviews of migrants and refugees.
It didn’t matter. YouTube deleted her film anyway.
Southern has over 700,000 subscribers on YouTube. Those subscribers belong to her, not the company. She should be able to count on those subscribers seeing a film that violated none of the YouTube terms of service. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that Southern would have embarked on this project had she not assumed she could show the end product to her audience.
Southern didn’t simply rely on her platform to justify all the time and energy spent making Borderless; she relied on YouTube’s previous commitments to content neutrality to justify building up her platform in the first place. And yet YouTube is utterly flippant about deleting her content.
When YouTube – or any other platform – invites users onto its platform with the promise of creative freedom and watches as they spend thousands of hours producing content and building up the platform, those users should have a property interest in their account. YouTube shouldn’t be able to take it away on a whim.
Platform access isn’t just necessary to protect meaningful free speech in 2019. It’s imperative to protect the property interests of those like Lauren Southern who have justifiably relied on the promises of social media companies.
Your social media accounts should be yours. Not YouTube’s. Not Facebook’s. Not Twitter’s.
COMPETITION WILL NOT SAVE US.
YouTube’s censorship decisions demonstrate another unique problem that big tech monopolies pose in 2019. If YouTube were focused solely on profit maximization, it would welcome Southern’s documentary onto its platform. Moreover, it would shy away from deleting long-form documentary films; such films take months of work to produce, and if YouTube will delete them on a whim, conservative creators won’t even bother.
But here’s the thing about monopoly power; it gives companies the ability to prioritize things other than their bottom line. YouTube has over 75% of the market for video-sharing services. Its market position is unassailable. And so it can use its monopoly to silence conservatives and squash opposition to open borders, without bearing any serious costs.
Google and YouTube apparently believe that there is only one acceptable view on Europe’s migrant crisis. Monopoly power gives these companies the luxury of censoring those who disagree with them, and discouraging others from even talking about the issue.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the primary vignettes in Borderless is about misconduct by pro-migration NGOs in Greece. As Southern and her team explain on the movie’s website:
“During our undercover investigation into NGOs working in the Greek Islands we have come into possession of recordings of Ariel Ricker, Executive Director of Advocates Abroad admitting to unethical and illegal practices. Advocates Abroad is a large scale NGO providing legal aid to refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe.
Their 380 advocates are primarily involved in preparing refugees and migrants for their asylum interviews. The recorded admissions are particularly concerning given the organization’s links to a fundraising campaign between University of Cambridge students and 12 British MPs which raised in excess of $60,000 US for the organization.”
The people of Greece vote for their European representatives tomorrow, May 26th. Today, the day before that election, Google’s moderators have decided – in their infinite wisdom – that Greek citizens should not be able to view a documentary that purports to reveal unethical behavior by NGOs on Greek soil.
It’s now a serious question whether YouTube is engaged in outright election meddling with their selective, biased moderation process.
No one should have that power.