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5 Mar 2020

Stand News (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong: Youtube reportedly says it's "sorry" for demonetising coronavirus-related videos at meeting with Youtubers

[Excerpt translation provided by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre]

“Youtube says it's "sorry" for “yellow marker” as coronavirus situation is categorized as “sensitive topic”; Youtuber: there is pressure from international institutions”, 4 March 2020

The “Yellow Marker” incident induced by the Wuahn coronavirus epidemic has led netizens to question whether Youtube is suppressing freedom of speech.  Some even initiated a petition against Youtube’s censorship to the White House. Youtube sent some representatives from the Asia Pacific region to attend a meeting with renowned Youtubers. While apologizing for the incident, the representatives emphasized that they have not violated1 the freedom of speech. According to Youtuber Wong Yeung-ling who also attended the meeting, representatives from Youtube mentioned that artificial Intelligence was involved in the incident and that they have pressured senior staff. A spokesperson from Google, Youtube’s parent company, said that as content related to the novel coronavirus is categorized as “controversial issues and sensitive events” under its advertiser-friendly content guidelines, advertising revenue would be restricted or could not be generated. The spokesperson also emphasized that no political stance is involved when reviewing whether the video content meets the monetization policy.

When interviewed by Stand News, Wong Yeung-ling said that according to the Youtube representatives, since 30 January “there has been pressure from supervisors” who ordered that the global coronavirus situation should be taken seriously; rumours and fake news should be stopped from spreading and rigid measures should be adopted if needed, though involving parties have already told senior staff members that they did not agree with handling the matter rigidly…

Wong also said that representatives from Youtube proposed that a trial reporting mechanism could be introduced to allow Youtuber to self-report and appeal more specifically. The general procedures are that Youtubers who have been “yellow marked” could fill in a content declaration form and declare whether violence, pornography or other inappropriate content is involved in the videos. After that, the video could be set to be published at a later time; if the video is soon “yellow marked” automatically, the video could be sent to Youtube for manual checking before publishing. Youtube staff could consider whether the Youtuber has made an accurate declaration according to the new reporting mechanism; if the content is not problematic and the declaration is accurate, it is likely that the yellow marker will be removed.

Besides, Wong and a few other participants mentioned in the meeting that though many newly uploaded videos are “unrelated to the epidemic” , they are yellow marked automatically; It is almost like the entire channel has been put into the yellow mark observation list. In response, the Youtube representatives said at the meeting that they have also made similar observations and enquired the technical department, which replied that technicians have not set up “accumulative yellow marks” that are said to cause all videos to be yellow marked “regardless of the topics”. The exact cause of the phenomenon was not clarified at the meeting.

As for accusations of suppressing freedom of speech, Wong said that representatives from Youtube repeatedly emphasized that the incident is unrelated to freedom of speech. They also said that they cherished the platform ecology formed by advertisers, audience and Youtuber. They added that the incident does not involve the removal of videos, only that no advertising revenue would be generated with the yellow marks, which should not count as a form of suppressing freedom of speech.

Part of the following timelines

China: Business action and alleged inaction in response to spread of novel coronavirus 2020

YouTube reportedly censors videos about novel coronavirus by removal or demonetization, company says they fall under “sensitive topics”