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Once upon a time, YouTube represented the best of what the internet can be. Anyone could post anything they wanted, and you could go and watch videos on pretty much anything.

Sure, they were crappy videos most of the time–something that, in fairness, hasn’t changed all that much–but it was like almost anything that wasn’t porn was fair game.

Then YouYube became big business. People started making money on the platform. As a result, YouTube figured it had a say in who could make that money. After all, it calls the shots, right?

Over the last few years, gun channels have come under fire from YouTube, though. Firearm YouTubers have had to take the blame for mass shooting after mass shooting, all despite the fact that no evidence has been presented that any of these people had anything to do with gun YouTubers.

But it doesn’t matter. The platform’s cracking down yet again.

In pertinent part, the email reads (emphasis added):

We want to help keep people safe both online and offline, so we don’t allow the promotion of weapons-related content that may lead to damage, harm, or injury. For this reason, ads may not be placed on videos that feature modified, 3D-printed or DIY weapons and ammunition, or provide instruction on how to obtain any of these. Videos that facilitate the sale of firearms or their modifications or otherwise provides instruction on how to obtain or build them are no longer monetizable on YouTube.

Furthermore, videos featuring firearm use can only take place in appropriately safe and controlled environments such as shooting ranges in order to monetize. You may not monetize videos depicting improper usage of guns. For more information please visit: https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/1348688?hl=en#Weapon-related_content

Now, you can remove these if you wishes to run ads on your videos, so we can take another review on your videos.

Hope to hear from you soon.

So, YouTube appears to have informally implemented a new, unspoken policy (i.e., I could not find this in the content guidelines) whereby it will demonetize videos which aren’t shot in a “controlled environment” such as a “shooting range.”
This raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is:
  • How does YouTube determine what usage is improper? Is there someone at YouTube with proper training on safe gun handling who will implement these policies?*
  • How will they know when someone is in a “controlled environment” or not, and who has the authority to reach that conclusion?
  • Is a shooting range, in fact, safer and more “controlled” than the creator’s private property such that this policy needs to be implemented, to begin with?
  • WHAT IS A MODIFIED WEAPON?
  • Who do you think you are?
  • What gives you right?

Now, again, it’s YouTube’s site. It can do what it wants.

However, there’s a question that needs to be answered by YouTube and other social media companies: Are they publishers or platforms?

You see, there’s a legal distinction between the two. Stephen Crowder has talked about it on his show, and he’s got a vested interest in the discussion, but it’s a fair question.

You see, a publisher is responsible for the content on its network. It can be sued for defamatory content, but it also is allowed to essentially censor content as well for any reason it wants. (I use the term “censor,” but that’s not to imply that I’m saying it’s censorship as most of us think of the term. No government is censoring. Private entities can censor, as in this instance.) It gets the power to censor as it wishes, but because it does, it’s responsible for everything published.

A platform, however, bears no responsibility for what is done on its network. In a recent video, Crowder used the example of a cell phone company. The cell phone company isn’t responsible for what transpires on its network. On the other hand, it doesn’t get to decide what is discussed on its networks, either.

YouTube and other social media companies have enjoyed some of the best of both worlds, and that’s a problem.

You see, these social media giants routinely censor content. Anyone who has had posts yanked from Facebook has been witness to this. It dictates content all the time, much like a publisher. However, it also hides behind the shield of being a platform.

In this case, YouTube is carving an exclusionary policy to hurt gun channels, thus trying to massage what content is being produced. That’s the act of a publisher, not a platform. If YouTube is going to be a publisher, that means it’s responsible for defamatory statements made on the platform, and there have been a ton of them. After all, something like 300 hours is uploaded to YouTube every minute. If YouTube’s going to be a publisher, that means it needs to check all of that for any potentially defamatory content.

I’m sure that’s a road it doesn’t want to go down.

The other side of that, however, is to be a platform and make it clear that you aren’t going to censor videos in any way, shape, or form and that trying to do so means you also have to control every other video being uploaded to some degree.

That means leaving gun channels the hell alone.