Political activist and alt-right supporter Martin Sellner announced last week on Wednesday that his YouTube channel was deleted by Google because he had violated their terms and agreements. Having amassed over 100,000 subscribers, his channel was popular among members of the far-right in Austria and was his main channel of communication with his alt-right supporters – who form more of a loosely associated online community than a political movement, and who are generally associated with xenophobic, white supremacist, white nationalist ideas.

But by Tuesday, August 27, Sellner had already begun deleting older videos or setting them on private to avoid deletion – YouTube had started a campaign to shut down those they deemed not “viewer friendly” or “controversial”.

“In the last couple of days there has been a massive wave of bans and age restrictions everywhere. Old videos are a huge risk,” said Sellner in an update video, explaining the deletions to his fans, “I have older political videos that I really don’t want to provoke them [YouTube] with. I am legally not allowed to talk about it right now.”

“We sometimes make a wrong decision”

Despite Sellner’s efforts, on Wednesday, August 28, his YouTube account was shut down. But this ban was short-lived – by the next day, it was back up, accompanied by a celebratory video in which Sellner thanked his supporters and especially his lawyer, who had intervened. What was clear is that YouTube had changed their mind: “Because of the sheer amount of videos on YouTube we sometimes make the wrong decision,” the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine quoted aYouTube spokesperson as saying. “When we are made aware that we have wrongfully suspended a video or channel, we react swiftly to make sure it is restored again.” Less clear is what Sellner’s lawyer said that provoked the change of heart.

YouTube has been under immense pressure from investors and sponsors to remove any content creators that might be deemed conspiracy theorists. Big brands pay millions for advertising, and don’t want their ads to be played before these kinds of videos. Since May, Google, Facebook and Twitter have been actively cutting out views that could be considered “hate speech” or disinformation.

Last week Alex Jones (notorious founder of the Info Wars channel) was also deleted once again after returning from a previous 2018 ban – which has led some to question YouTube’s consistency. In June, YouTube posted a blog post titled “Our ongoing work to tackle hate” where they reveal how they want to take their old video policies even further. Although YouTube guidelines are very clear about what they do not want to see uploaded on their site, specifically, videos claiming that one race is superior to another or any kind of discrimination based on age, gender, race, class, religion or sexual orientation, the margins keep being narrowed. The company explicitly mentions “videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology, which is inherently discriminatory” – perhaps the reason Sellner was banned in the first place.

Despite his YouTube rehabilitation, Martin Sellner remains notorious: This March, after the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand, it was revealed that the perpetrator had donated a considerable amount of money to Sellner and his political organization the Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (Identitarian Movement of Austria, IBÖ), making Sellner a target for international investigators. For now, however, he’s still on YouTube.

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