n another ploy to throw circling regulators off its scent, YouTube declared it will remove thousands of videos and channels that advocate neo-Nazi white nationalism and other uber right wing content. It joins its social media corporate brethren in yet another public declaration of penance to clean up its platform before a fed-up American public demands more accountability and oversight of #BigTech.      

My reaction?  Better to mobilize victimized Americans to make a citizen’s arrest of YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki for failing to act sooner and continuing to turn a blind eye to YouTube’s aiding and abetting extremist content.  

Under Wojcicki’s management YouTube has remained a malignant purveyor of violence and terrorism subsisting within a corporate-wide culture of extremism tolerance. Not one such previous YouTube policy shift has added up much more to a hill of beans. Time and again, her indifference to the storms swirling around YouTube suggest, at best, she is unable to fix YouTube, or at worst, is too Silicon Valley libertarian for her to continue in her role. After all, YouTube’s own published rules prohibit content which incites violence and extremism. It’s as if YouTube’s own rules are meant to be ignored by her.      

A recent expose in the NYTimes “The Making of a YouTube Radical” describes how YouTube provided a web-based “on ramp” to enable Caleb Cain to be sucked into a vortex of far-right politics on YouTube.  The Times’ elaborated how YouTube has been a convenient recruiting tool for neo-Nazis, or “red-piling” (an internet slang word for converting to far-right beliefs).    

YouTube Repeatedly Turns a Blind Eye to Extremism—It’s A Money Maker

For many years, the Counter Extremism Project has called YouTube to task for failing to enforce its own customer terms of service against the prevalence of radical Jihadi incitement and neo-Nazi content.  Despite pleas from CEP and impacted governments, YouTube has left many of the radioactive accounts online even when they violated its own rules against extremism.  

In 2017, I questioned whether YouTube would ever live up to its repeated pledges to permanently remove the most egregious neo-Nazi and radical Islamic content on its platform (Google’s New Anti-Extremist Policy Is Thin Gruel Against Terrorism—Huffington Post, June 22, 2017).  

I was right to be dubious. In response to an advertiser boycott in 2017, YouTube pledged to remove dangerous videos enabling domestic neo-Nazi violence and terrorism caused by YouTube’s so-called “recommendation algorithm” (RA) migrating American corporate ads onto extremist sites visited by users. The RA is responsible for more than 70% of all time spent on YouTube.  The longer a user is on, the more ads eyeballed (what is known as “rabbit holing.”) The advertiser boycott cost YouTube almost $700 million in lost digital ad revenue that year. Loss of ad revenue was incentive enough for YouTube to tinker with the RA to satisfy boycotting corporate advertisers, but the patch was insufficient.  

But while YouTube was trying to fix its “ads on extremist content” problem, it was feverishly working to accelerate the success of its RA to gain more and more ad revenue.  

In early 2017, Ms. Wojcicki oversaw her team’s development of each new iteration of its RA, including its most “lethal” version known as “REINFORCE” which migrates potential radicals to recommended videos by “baiting” them to watch more and more. REINFORCE soon became a “red-piling” gold mine for the far right, who developed more and more videos to play off REINFORCE.  

CEP continues to find corporate ads on extremist content despite YouTube’s pledges to corporate advertisers to prevent that from happening again.

Terrorists & White Nationalist Extremists Rely on YouTube’s “How to” Videos    

It’s not merely the prevalence of neo-Nazi and radical jihadi extremist incitement and recruitment on YouTube, it’s also the proliferation of terrorist “how to” videos, which a year ago, I wrote an oped pleading with YouTube to remove these terrorist instructional videos which the FBI has revealed were utilized by ISIS and neo-Nazi inspired terrorists.

On any given day there are tens of thousands of videos on YouTube providing step-by-step instructions how to construct bombs—pipe bombs, pressure cooker bombs, you name the type terrorists rely on to hone their training and build their weapons.  They are all in plain sight without needed to hire a technological Einstein to find them on YouTube.

Ms. Wojcicki has never come clean how these “how to make a bomb” videos fulfill YouTube’s duty of care to its customers. Why doesn’t YouTube just offer up the matches, as well. Where is the public outrage? Where is the accountability to the public?    

Nazi Sympathizers Enjoy a Long-Term Lease on YouTube

On January 31 of this year, I authored an article entitled: “The Acrid Stench of Neo-Nazi Content on YouTube. The article highlighted the “in plain sight” hospitality YouTube accorded vulgar videos from the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division and the notorious neo-Nazi tome—Seige (a rancid diatribe scribed by American neo-Nazi James Mason, which serves as the manifesto for the Atomwaffen gang). Seige urges its disciples to launch lone-wolf terrorist attacks against the U.S. government to cause it to collapse in favor of a new Fourth Reich. Did YouTube take down Seige-related content, which is uncontestably incitement and not a part of some investigative assessment? An audiobook of it is still on YouTube today.

My article also disclosed the existence of a neo-Nazi video game “Zog’s Nightmare,” which was readily accessible by merely inserting into YouTube’s search bar the neo-Nazi-created catch-all YouTube acronym “ZOG” (Zionist Operated Governments). Guess what. Version #2 of the neo-Nazi-created video game is now up on YouTube as of June 10 (Chanukah Special ZOG’s Nightmare #2). There are so many other examples of neo-Nazi extremist incitement easily located on YouTube, there is not enough room to list the most egregious examples.

Either unwilling or unable to govern itself as it has grown exponentially, YouTube has plowed a king’s ransom into Washington lobbying to forestall Congressional regulation and to prevent Congress from repealing its content immunity granted under the 1996 Communications Decency Act (18 USC Section 230).

Either unwilling or unable to govern itself as it has grown exponentially, YouTube has plowed a king’s ransom into Washington lobbying to forestall Congressional regulation and to prevent Congress from repealing its content immunity granted under the 1996 Communications Decency Act (18 USC Section 230).

YouTube’s Goal: Spend Whatever it Takes to Prevent Regulation & Accountability

Let’s start with the reality that social media companies will spend whatever it takes to prevent oversight and accountability rather than invest those dollars in permanent technological fixes.  

Either unwilling or unable to govern itself as it has grown exponentially, YouTube has plowed a king’s ransom into Washington lobbying to forestall Congressional regulation and to prevent Congress from repealing its content immunity granted under the 1996 Communications Decency Act (18 USC Section 230).  

Section 230 represents #BigTech’s Holy Grail. If Section 230 were to be repealed by Congress, social media companies would be held to the same standard of content responsibility/liability as other major media companies (think of the Washington Post, or New York Times). YouTube would be forced to take down those “how to” videos and extremist incitement or face civil or even criminal liability. Why should #BigTech continue to benefit from such immunity which enables them to voluntarily decide when and how to act?  

YouTube would have to vet every image before it reached the public or be held liable by victims of its content transgressions. And if YouTube’s Wojcicki pleads it’s not technologically feasible to capture white nationalist or “how to” content, Section 230 immunity was repealed in years ago to hold #BigTech liable for permitting the posting child porn or sex trafficking videos.      

America’s Democratic Allies Have Had Enough of #BigTech Empty Promises    

America’s trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific allies are no longer prepared to sit on the sidelines hoping for some #BigTech anti-extremist miracle.  

After the Christchurch massacre, New Zealand adopted legislation holding social media companies criminally liable for livestreaming any variant of the massacre. Australia passed a law criminalizing the failure of social media platforms to “take timely action in relation to abhorrent violent material.” Australia is currently considering new legislation which would require more government oversight of BigTech’s own customer terms of service.  

The European Union is on the cusp of adopting a new regulatory framework, which would require swift removal of extremist content within a limited period or face fines commensurate with their market share and global revenue. And the UK’s Parliament will begin considering next month a new “Online Harms” law which would impose the most sweeping civil and criminal liability on social media companies operating in the UK.

YouTube’s executives assured New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern that it was throwing the proverbial technological kitchen sink at locating and removing any variant of the live-streamed Christchurch massacre. Nearly three months after the attack, Eric Feinberg, a respected cyber intelligence analyst with GIPEC provided me on June 12 a link to a video of the white extremist Christchurch mosque massacre on YouTube.  The Arabic language call for vengeance against “infidels” has the raw video of the massacre in the lower right-hand corner. If Mr. Feinberg can find it, why can’t YouTube with all its technological resources? So much for Ms. Wojcicki’s pledge.

If Congress Won’t Act, Why Not Corporate Advertisers?

Despite a growing Congressional chorus calling on YouTube and its brethren to clean up their acts under threat of involuntary regulatory oversight, there is no pending legislation of immediate consequence working its way through either the House or Senate. Apparently, the lobbyists are prevailing.

It is a sad commentary on the stubborn resistance of Silicon Valley to get ahead of the extremist curve that our allies are doing more than the U.S. Government to demand accountability. But all this international regulation will only protect the citizens of those countries, not Americans.  

Dr. Hany Farid (one of the world’s preeminent computer scientists, the developer of the “eGLYPH” software used to identify extremist content and my CEP colleague) opined in USA Today a few months ago “…if our government will not step up to the plate, it is time for corporate CEOs who fuel the bottom lines of #BigTech to demand accountable action. Advertising accounts for 90% of social media’s revenue…:

“These CEOs can stand up and say unequivocally: enough is enough. We will no longer be the fuel that allows social media to lead to deaths of innocents, to interfere in democratic elections, to be the vessel for distributing child sexual, extremism, and dangerous conspiracies. We will no longer stand idly by as social media turns its back on society.”

Yesterday, marketers announced they are launching the Global Alliance for Responsible Media alongside 14 other global advertisers, the five leading agency holding companies and media companies that include Google, Facebook, and NBC/Universal.

This is an important, first step, but no panacea. Nothing will be accomplished until social media companies are certain that their failure to impose order will result in mandatory oversight and regulation.

One Step Short of Mandatory Government Oversight:  A New Private Sector #BigTech Oversight Standards Board

There is no perfect solution on the immediate horizon to force YouTube to fix its mess.    One proposal engineered by my CEP colleague, Robert Benton, is to couple the advertising industry’s proposed “standards” with a private sector regulatory watchdog.  

The idea is to create an independent social media regulator to “certify” BigTech compliance with a code of conduct (whether the advertising industry is the source or not) governing rapid identification and permanent elimination of extremist content. The code would establish the required measures and remedies social media companies must enact in order to be “certified.” A loss of certification would result in the imposition of specifically enumerated penalties—both fines and revocation of ad revenue.  

Loosely modeled after the highly successful Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), which was established in 1973, the “regulator” would incorporate code of conduct reporting and compliance standards for social media companies and be “housed” in a privately-created, independent, private sector, not-for-profit foundation responsible for overseeing, administering, financing, and appointing the board and staff of the “regulator.”

The model purposely avoids the pitfalls of having Congress establish a publicly chartered regulator of social media companies, including the impact of First Amendment restrictions on extremist content regulation. The regulator would publish public compliance reports available to Congress and the executive branch by which Congress can judge whether private regulation is either succeeding or failing, thus giving way to a possible repeal of Section 230. Although this proposal does not envision direct Congressional action against social media companies, Congress has a vital role to play to get #BigTech to line up behind a voluntary, private sector, independent regulator.  

Ms. Wojcicki has turned a blind eye to YouTube’s “culture of extremism.” She is fully acquainted with the content abuses pervasive on YouTube but has stuck her head in the sand hoping a little management fairy dust would keep the public at bay. She simply cannot be trusted to fix the mess that YouTube has created for itself.

Marc Ginsberg
Ambassador Marc Charles Ginsberg is President of Coalition for a Safer Web and a contributor to Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.