Opinion

SCHILLING: YouTube Banned My Organization –– Here’s Why That’s A Problem For Democracy

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Terry Schilling American Principles Project
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Last Monday, my organization, American Principles Project (APP), was informed by YouTube that our official channel had been permanently removed. No explanation, no warning, nothing but a terse email alerting us that the channel was gone. We were told that, due to “severe or repeated violations” of YouTube’s “Community Guidelines,” our organization would no longer be allowed to “access, possess, or create any other YouTube channels.”

We weren’t exactly surprised. APP has been censored plenty of times before, and we’re far from the first to end up on the receiving end of Big Tech’s hostility toward free speech. CensorTrack.org lists upwards of 75 notable examples of Big Tech censorship and manipulation since the beginning of September alone. In just this time period, Big Tech has targeted or censored Right Side Broadcasting Network, Michael Knowles, Ben Stein, pro-life organization Live Action, Republican Congressional candidate Joe Kent and Ron Paul, among many others.

In our case, we were able to kick up enough of a fuss that YouTube eventually retreated, informing us that they would mercifully let us off with just a warning strike. But when we logged back in to our account, we discovered that YouTube had removed several of our videos, particularly those highlighting staff appearances on Steve Bannon’s show “War Room.” They did not say there was anything specifically objectionable in any of the clips. Instead, they declared that, in their judgment, nothing at all from the show could be distributed on their platform. Since we were unaware that Bannon was verboten, we’d be okay for now.

It’s impossible to say whether or not the clips with Steve Bannon were the original reason for the ban. There are plenty of reasons leftists in Silicon Valley might want to shut us down. Our organization is generally critical of the Big Tech monopolies, including YouTube and their parent company, Google. We have fought to protect women’s sports and save children from gender experimentation. We also just announced that our super PAC was engaging in the Virginia governor’s race. Did Democrat candidate Terry McAuliffe, who sent out a campaign e-mail about APP’s involvement the previous Friday, call in a favor over the weekend?

But let’s assume for a second that Google is telling the truth about why they banned our channel. Why is it Google’s prerogative to police the limits of acceptable conservative thought? A blanket ban of a popular conservative show, without regard for the actual content of a given clip, is an utterly unethical and un-American flex of the company’s monopolistic power.

YouTube has amassed huge amounts of popularity, wealth and power. They hold a practical monopoly on online video hosting. Their editorial and algorithmic decisions have immense influence over the hundreds of millions of Americans who use their platform each month. In recent years, they’ve taken it upon themselves to use this power to become the arbiters of acceptable political opinion. Unsurprisingly, given the political leanings of their ownership and staff, the “unacceptable” opinions have been almost exclusively on the right.

Americans should be concerned. Big Tech in general, and Google in particular, seems to have decided they are not satisfied with the American system. They do not believe that it is wise for the American electorate to speak to each other freely, gather their own information and form their own opinions. They think that, by and large, the American people are too ignorant to do any of these things. Instead, in Google’s view, the American people need to be shielded from the types of arguments, the types of people, the types of information — true or not, objectionable or not — that may cause them to come to a conclusion that differs from Google’s.

This has huge implications for our political system. To use the common rhetoric of the left, it undermines our democracy. Literally. Our system of self-government relies on the ability of the people to engage in serious political debate with one another.

YouTube and Google have absolutely no qualms about interfering in the political process. YouTube has already censored official testimony given before a committee of the United States Senate. They’ve censored the speeches of sitting U.S. senators. They’ve censored a meeting of a local school board due to an anodyne public comment questioning mask policy.

Our system of government cannot survive if the free political debate of the country is regulated by the whims of a few tech oligarchs.  A censored population is the end of a republic, whether the censorship comes from the federal government or from a private company.

If Big Tech companies are insistent on monopolizing a huge portion of the public discourse that shapes our civic life, they should adhere to a First Amendment standard for permissible speech. If they can’t do that, they should lose their monopolies. Ultimately, both things may be necessary for the survival of our nation.

Terry Schilling is the president of American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @Schilling1776.