TalkRadio: YouTube reverses decision to ban channel

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

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image copyrightYouTube

YouTube has reinstated TalkRadio's channel on its platform hours after saying it had been "terminated" for breaking the tech firm's rules.

It said the broadcaster had posted material that contradicted expert advice about the coronavirus pandemic.

But it explained its U-turn saying it sometimes made exceptions to guidelines that state repeat offenders face a permanent ban.

TalkRadio said it had yet to be given a full explanation for the affair.

The decision to ban TalkRadio had appalled digital rights campaigners, with one group - Big Brother Watch - claiming it was evidence that "big tech censorship is spiralling out of control".

The Google-owned service has issued a brief statement explaining its actions.

"TalkRadio's YouTube channel was briefly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated," it said.

"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."

Three strikes

YouTube has not published details of the offending posts.

But independent fact-checkers have repeatedly challenged some of the claims made by interviewees featured by the London-based radio station.

YouTube operates a "three strikes" policy, whereby channels that break its community guidelines three times within a 90-day period can be permanently banned, but other infractions lead to temporary restrictions.

Prohibited content includes "medically unsubstantiated claims" relating to Covid-19, and videos that contradict expert consensus from local health authorities such as the NHS.

"YouTube is making decisions about which opinions the public are allowed to hear, even when they are sourced to responsible and regulated new providers," TalkRadio said in a statement this evening.

"This sets a dangerous precedent and is censorship of free speech and legitimate national debate."

The broadcaster tweeted the statement minutes after YouTube's change of heart. It did not appear to be aware that its channel had been reinstated at the time, but has since acknowledged the move.

Covid bans

TalkRadio has about 424,000 listeners, according to the latest figures from market research provider Rajar.

It uses YouTube as a means to livestream shows from its studios and to provide an archive of past broadcasts.

Its channel on the platform has 242,000 subscribers.

YouTube's action had meant that TalkRadio's website had featured articles featuring broken embedded clips for most of the day, and that users who had shared its clips would have been unable to view them.

The US firm has previously imposed a permanent ban against conspiracy theorist David Icke, and a one-week video suspension of right-wing outlet One America News Network's ability to publish new clips - in both cases for breaches of its Covid rules.

It's pretty clear something has gone wrong at YouTube in the last 24 hours.

It appeared as though TalkRadio had been banned for good on YouTube - or "terminated" as the company put it.

YouTube is now saying it was a short suspension, which certainly seems like a backtrack.

Even now, it's not obvious what the offending material was that caused this action. The whole process reinforces the idea that YouTube's moderation policies - where it draws the line between freedom of expression and clamping down on misinformation - can be messy and inconsistent.

And when YouTube takes such an action without giving full details, it rains controversy down on its own head.

This plays to a broader movement by YouTube and other social media companies to take a harder line on disinformation.

Joe Biden is about to become US President - and he wants social media companies to do more to remove fake news.

But as they are increasingly finding out, refereeing their own platforms can be hugely difficult, and this highlights the need for greater transparency about moderation decisions.

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