Social media giant YouTube has reversed course on deleting videos and channels featuring content where a silencer is attached to a gun.
The video hosting site said recent moderation efforts aimed at videos where sound suppressors are affixed to guns were a mistake. The takedowns and channel strikes had appeared to affect videos, whether attaching the suppressor was part of a guide or just incidental. The company said it is now in the process of restoring videos and channels that were wrongly flagged.
“Upon review, we determined the videos in question are not violative of our Community Guidelines and have reinstated them,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Reload. “When it’s brought to our attention that content has been mistakenly removed, we review it and take appropriate action, including reinstating and removing associated strikes.”
The reversal comes after channels with upwards of ten million followers run by suppressor manufacturers or professional content creators and those with a few dozen followers run by hobbyists had videos taken down and appeals denied. It is an example of another moderation controversy surrounding a tech giant and how it approaches gun content on its platform. It may spurn further distrust among gun owners looking to post or consume videos and could invite further scrutiny from already tech-skeptical Republicans who just took control of the House of Representatives.
The takedowns sparked outrage and panic among gun channels on the platform. The official channels of SilencerCo, Ammoland, and Recoil Magazine were all deleted outright. Silencer Central had numerous videos pulled down. Individual videos from creators, including Demolition Ranch, Garand Thumb, Top Shot Dustin, and many more, were taken down. The creators were all told that they had violated the company’s firearms policy in automated notification emails.
“Content that instructs viewers on how to make firearms, ammunition, and certain accessories; or how to install those certain accessories is not allowed on YouTube,” the emails sent by YouTube said.
However, none of the videos reviewed by The Reload appeared to depict any illegal acts. And the only installation shown in the videos was of suppressors being screwed on or otherwise attached to the end of a barrel, something YouTube’s written policies don’t appear to prohibit despite an ever-expanding list of practices they do.
Creators scrambled to understand why their videos were being targetted by YouTube and then to figure out how they could avoid their channels being deleted altogether as the social media site began flagging and removing years-old videos that had previously been given the green light. Many resorted to using YouTube’s tools to blur moments when suppressors were screwed onto the end of a gun barrel or reuploaded videos edited to remove the act altogether.
Ryan Miller, who runs the channel OreGear, had a review of a SilencerCo suppressor deleted by YouTube. He attempted to appeal the decision but was immediately denied without further clarification, as happened to many others affected by the takedowns.
“Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get them to explicitly tell me how I violated policy,” he said. “But based on what other people have received strikes for, I’m assuming it’s simply attaching a silencer in the videos.”
Jeremy Hendricks, who runs the channel Booligan Shooting Sports, echoed those complaints.
“I run a firearm channel with about 300k subscribers and I’ve continuously been dealing with YouTube removing content that follows their rules to the letter,” he told The Reload. “Never can get any sort of response from them that is helpful.”
Several also feared the mere insertion of a magazine into a firearm on camera would also be deemed against YouTube’s guidelines, which could lead to a near-total wipe of all gun-related videos on the platform.
YouTube told The Reload that its firearms policy has not changed at all recently. It said it became aware of complaints from creators over the takedowns and decided to look closer at how its policies were being applied in this case. It said it determined the takedowns were in error and is working to reinstate everything it erroneously removed.
It appears the videos and channels forwarded to YouTube by The Reload in the process of reporting on this story have now been restored to the platform.
Ian McCollum, who runs the popular Forgotten Weapons channel, told The Reload his video detailing the history of the Knight’s XM9 Beretta “Hush Puppy” was taken down over two years and over a million views after it was initially published. While his video was restored after The Reload forwarded it to a YouTube media contact, he said he had not received any communication from the company at all. He said the platform has become increasingly difficult to work with in recent years, a common complaint shared by YouTubers who post content from across the entertainment spectrum.
“YouTube is a fundamentally unreliable partner that refuses to talk to its creators and actively works against them,” McCollum said. “They have no interest in the things that originally made YouTube a great place to find information. They are only trying to change an ever-shrinking attention span to feed ads to a constantly scrolling feed of flashy distractions.”
Ivan Loomis, whose channel Kit Badger was completely removed during the ordeal, said things still aren’t back to normal.
“My channel just came back yesterday,” he told The Reload, “With a new strike, so I can’t upload for another week or two…”
He said he was “conflicted” over the situation and is waiting to see how the site handles things moving forward. But he suggested government action might be necessary, something Texas is already attempting with its novel social media “censorship” law.
“I think big picture, there probably needs to be a conversation about whether or not YouTube is a Utility,” Loomis said, articulating a point of view increasing popular among Republicans and conservatives unhappy with large tech companies’ moderation practices. “Barring that, it is probably time for YouTube to pick one, a Platform or a Publisher and get their feet held to the fire.”
McCollum said he is glad the company changed its mind on this issue but noted the lack of communication and clear guidelines made the ordeal far worse than it needed to be.
“This is a welcome reprieve, but it doesn’t change any of the fundamental problems with the company,” he said.
YouTube told The Reload it is continuing to work on its moderation enforcement systems’ accuracy to avoid future mistakes like this.
But that’s unlikely to comfort creators like McCollum, who said he had proactively scanned through thousands of videos in his archive to either blur or delete videos he had thought might get his channel taken down during the mistaken crackdown.
“The rest of my thoughts aren’t fit for publication :)” McCollum said.