Noting that its community guidelines “prohibit content denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events,” YouTube announced it is “blocking access to YouTube channels associated with Russian state-funded media globally, expanding from across Europe.” The company says it has already removed more than 1,000 channels and 15,000 videos for violating its policies “around misinformation, graphic content and more.”
1/ Our Community Guidelines prohibit content denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events. We are now removing content about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that violates this policy. https://t.co/TrTnOXtOTU— YouTubeInsider (@YouTubeInsider) March 11, 2022
YouTube had previously paused ads in Russia, and says it has “now extended this to all of the ways to monetize” YouTube videos in the country, including subscriptions.
Earlier this week, TikTok announced it would suspend service in Russia, limiting the ability for users to post new videos. Past videos are still visible on the platform, and users can still use the messaging function in the TikTok app.
While YouTube has couched its decision with regard to violations of its existing policies, some experts see other rationales for why tech platforms should take more decisive action against Russian state media.
Writing for the Center for International Governance Innovation blog, Vivek Krishnamurthy, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and a fellow of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, considered precedent on the topic of war propaganda, pointing to Article 20(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that “any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.” Krishnamurthy noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that the ICCPR’s prohibition “extends to all forms of propaganda threatening or resulting in an act of aggression or breach of the peace contrary to the Charter of the United Nations.” Krishnamurthy asks:
But are RT and Sputnik spreading “propaganda for war”?
This question is not easy to answer, because there is no agreement on how to define propaganda. However, there is international consensus that the proper measure of war propaganda extends beyond the volume or proportion of false information that a media outlet is spreading. In its 1950 Condemnation of propaganda against peace, the UN General Assembly recognized that propaganda also includes “measures tending to isolate the peoples from any contact with the outside world, by preventing the Press, radio and other media of communication from reporting international events…”
Seen in this light, RT and Sputnik’s well-documented role in spreading false and misleading information about Ukraine in the lead-up to the Russian invasion and throughout the conflict can be understood as part of a larger system of propaganda created by Vladimir Putin’s government, which also represses factual information about the war to prevent it reaching Russian audiences.
While YouTube’s decision did not appeal to such precedent in international law, it nevertheless puts YouTube on the right side of such a determination.
Facebook and Twitter have yet to institute a complete ban on Russian state media or official accounts.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.