In my industry, YouTube is often referred to as “the world’s second-biggest search engine.” YouTube obviously isn’t a search platform akin to Google, but it does draw more search inquiries than Google’s biggest rival, Bing.
In any case, YouTube has become the primary search destination for millions of queries a day, especially for reviews and how-tos. That’s why YouTube’s penchant for censorship should be something that concerns users and content creators alike.
YouTube has always had more stringent content guidelines than Google, and it has the right to do so, given that it hosts the content its algorithm indexes. But the company’s poor decisions on what to censor is an ongoing problem.
Last year, YouTube came under fire for age-gating queer content. Now, YouTube is has embarked on another bizarre censorship tear by removing hundreds of accounts that touch on the topic of cannabis.
It’s not just pot-smoking videos that are coming down. It’s also terminating accounts behind videos that explore cannabis culture and reviews of paraphernalia like vapes and cannabis bong pieces.
The purge began last spring and continued until recently, when YouTube suddenly had a change of heart. Some of the deleted accounts have since been restored to their former glory.
But why did YouTube go after cannabis in the first place?
It turns out that YouTube’s content guidelines include videos that “encourage dangerous or illegal activities” such as “bomb making, choking games, hard drug use, or other acts where serious injury may result.” Consumption is still illegal in many countries. But the purge didn’t only affect content creators in in those regions.
Further confusing the issue is the fact that YouTube seemingly had no qualms about hosting (and collecting ad revenue thanks to) cannabis-related content until very recently. Various channels had grown to accumulate thousands of subscribers (the Canadian channel UrbanRemo had 190,000, and Leafly’s following was 176,000 strong).
A year ago, no one cared if you posted a review of your newest silicone bong mouthpieces for cannabis; now, you’d better pretend the thing is a chew toy if you want your channel to stay up.
The lesson to content creators? YouTube enforces its rules selectively, and you can lose your channel without warning if you dabble in a subculture with a bad rap. That should be scary to anyone who relies on the service as a revenue stream or a platform for advocacy.