YouTube removed and then swiftly reinstated the channels of two prominent Europe-based far-right YouTubers — white nationalist activist Martin Sellner and British YouTuber the Iconoclast — raising new questions about how the video platform takes action against such material.
But on Thursday, the channels were restored. YouTube told BuzzFeed News that it had made a "wrong call" with a decision to remove them. The company didn't explain the process around that decision.
Martin Sellner is the face of the pan-European Generation Identity movement, which has been staging far-right, anti-immigration stunts for several years. Last year, he was one of three far-right activists banned from entering Britain because authorities deemed their presence "not conducive to the public good".
His link with the suspected gunman in the Christchurch mosque shootings has also been under the spotlight recently. Before the massacre, Sellner had repeated contact with him and reportedly sent him a link to his YouTube channel. The suspect allegedly replied, "fantastisch". According to the Guardian, Sellner has also used YouTube to upload German-language videos about the police investigation into his links with the accused shooter.
YouTube's reactivation of Sellner's channel comes two months after the video platform joined with Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter to make a commitment they called the "Christchurch Call to Action". YouTube and the other tech companies said they were committed to "fight the hatred and extremism that lead to terrorist violence".
The Iconoclast has more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. In an interview with Defend Europa last year, the YouTuber spoke extensively about the white nationalist conspiracy theory of "ethnic replacement". He describes himself as a "British nationalist" who is "anti-mass migration".
The decision comes a few days after YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki posted her quarterly letter to YouTube creators, which talked about how the company sometimes would leave up "controversial or even offensive" videos.
"A commitment to openness is not easy," Wojcicki wrote. "It sometimes means leaving up content that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive.
"But I believe that hearing a broad range of perspectives ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed society, even if we disagree with some of those views."
A YouTube spokesperson said: "With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.
"We also offer uploaders the ability to appeal removals and we will re-review the content.”
UPDATE: After publication of this story, YouTube's spokesperson Farshad Shadloo released the following statement about Sellner and The Iconoclast's accounts.
"Earlier this week we removed Martin Sellner and Iconoclast's YouTube channels. We realise that many may find the viewpoints expressed in these channels deeply offensive. However, after a thorough review we determined the videos on their channels do not violate our Community Guidelines and so the channels were reinstated. Earlier this year, we updated our approach towards hateful content. As a result of this new, more aggressive hate speech policy we have removed thousands of accounts and tens of thousands of videos. Just this week, we removed numerous accounts that were violative of our new, stricter hate speech policies."