Over the past week or two, YouTube began banning gun videos. Now, this isn’t a blanket ban of all videos that revolve around guns, as per YouTube’s new policies it mostly seems to be affecting videos which have the intent to sell guns, or link to sites where gun sales and gun accessory sales are taking place. While this doesn’t seem like a problem for some, others will find it to be more than a little bit of a headache and perhaps rightfully so, as it seems to have sparked a little bit of a debate among internet-goers and common visitors of YouTube as to whether YouTube is making the right decision, or whether YouTube is violating free speech. Some will argue that YouTube is within its rights to ban any videos it sees fit if they sit outside of the realm of what’s allowed per the policy.
YouTube is the company that owns the platform, after all, and perhaps it has the right to do as it sees fit with any content uploaded to the site. Others see this is as a freedom of speech issue, as the channels or videos being banned don’t seem to have been doing anything outside the boundaries of the law, and therein lies the bigger issue. Is YouTube’s decision to ban these videos and channels around guns even if they link to sites where guns are sold a good decision? Is YouTube discriminating? These are valid questions, even if YouTube’s decision may not be, as some will see the ban as a choice made against channels that have done nothing wrong to be one fueled by politics and agenda.
Whether or not that is the case is perhaps not for the public to decide, but it seems to be one that has crossed the minds of individuals and, it only gets a little more complicated the more you look into things. YouTube, for example, is not the only site that has started banning guns in one way or another. This past week, more than a few different subreddits that are revolving around gun sales have been banned and taken offline as well, so this is an situation that has spread beyond just YouTube, and although the policies for both sites may be different it all happened within the same time frame, which makes for an interesting angle on the bans and whether or not sites are using their discretionary authority to block out a certain subset of people in the U.S. community following recent issues with gun violence.
While the banning of videos that revolves around the sales of guns seems to remain a decision that YouTube is enforcing, at least one channel that was pulled off of YouTube, Spike’s Tactical, was reinstated and the channel is back online as YouTube noted that its removal was a mistake. So while there might be some uproar over YouTube banning entire channels from the platform, it appears that most of the bans are on videos themselves and not necessarily the channels as a whole, at least for the majority of the channels. Also worth noting is that while YouTube is banning videos on gun sales, it’s not banning all gun-related videos, such as gun demonstration videos. As per YouTube’s new policy and changes, which are going to begin taking place in April, any videos that are uploaded with the intent to sell guns, gun accessories such as high-capacity magazines, bump stocks, and other similar accessories, or videos which show how to convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, will be banned, though the process has already been started.
Though the policy is to hone in on gun and gun accessory sales videos, some, such as the National Sport Shooting Foundation, are especially worried that the ban will extend beyond that of videos which are aimed at sales to cover a much wider-reaching ban that includes more types of gun videos that include those which are intended strictly for an instructional purpose. In a post from the NSSF on March 21, the organization notes “Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech, which has constitutional protection. Such actions also impinge on the Second Amendment.” This shows that more than a few people are concerned that YouTube’s decision to enter the gun control debate will have heavier consequences, while also echoing what a sizeable portion of U.S. citizens are surely thinking, that YouTube is getting in the way of free speech by censoring certain content. As a platform that was originally designed and created to give the average person a voice and a place in which they could share their creativity with other users, YouTube has served many people the world over as a means for accessing a large collection of different content, and over time that has expanded to include all manner of categories, both good and bad, and while it might be advantageous as well as a smart move to ban videos which have the intent of selling guns and certain gun accessories illegally, the question is now being raised as to whether or not it should stop there, meaning whether or not the bans should exclude those videos which may be about gun sales but in a legal way.
The crux of the matter is that it appears YouTube is trying to both remain a platform for free speech and also do its best to police content which it feels could be of a particular danger to other users, though not everyone will agree on this and some may take a different stance, believing that YouTube is simply pushing an agenda or sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong - politics. By choosing to take down videos intended to sell guns, even through links to website where legal sales can take place, YouTube has taken its stance on the matter of the debate on gun control, a topic which tends to come up every time after a mass shooting, the most recent one being the shooting in Parkland, Florida. As evidenced by the bans on Reddit, YouTube is also not the only company which has sided with one group or the other, those groups being people which are for stricter gun control laws and regulations and those which don’t see guns as the problem.
Beyond the walls of the internet, which are expansive and vast to say the least, other companies have taken steps to impose gun control in their own way. Multiple sporting goods stores, or retailers which have sporting goods departments that sell guns, have made the decision to stop selling assault weapons such as the AR-15 in an attempt to make getting a hold of such weapons much more difficult. While this is the prerogative of those businesses to sell guns or not sell guns, there is a big difference between a retailer choosing not to sell something and YouTube banning videos which are aimed at sales of that particular item. So the question remains is YouTube stepping out of bounds by implementing these bans or is it well within its rights as a company to do so? The answer is likely the same, as YouTube owns the platform and therefore technically owns the content once it’s been uploaded. Perhaps the better question, though, is not whether YouTube is within its rights to issue these bans and pull down videos, but whether it’s making the morally correct choice with this imposition. The thing is, there will be two sides to this question and there will be people on both sides. There are already people on both sides, and it may very well stay that way for some time. Either way, this appears to be the new normal, and whether people agree with YouTube’s decision or not, there is potentially little to be done about it for now.