YouTube Cracked Down on U.K. Far Right Activist Tommy Robinson

His account wasn’t deleted, but he can no longer livestream, and other key features were stripped

Tommy Robinson’s YouTube channel has over 388,000 subscribers Tommy Robinson/YouTube
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YouTube placed severe restrictions on the account of U.K. far right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes by Tommy Robinson, but the Google-owned video site did not ban him altogether.

Robinson was a co-founder, spokesman and leader of the controversial English Defence League, which presents itself as a single-issue movement opposed to Islamism and Islamic extremism.

He recently became a political adviser to Gerard Batten, leader of the UK Independence Party, a right-wing, anti-immigration political party.

Twitter banned Robinson from its platform last March, citing violations of its policies on hateful conduct.

Facebook and Instagram followed suit in late February, saying that individuals and organizations that are engaged in “organized hate” were not permitted on its platform.

Robinson’s YouTube channel has over 388,000 subscribers.

A YouTube spokesperson said, “After consulting with third-party experts, we are applying a tougher treatment to Tommy Robinson’s channel in keeping with our policies on borderline content. The content will be placed behind an interstitial, removed from recommendations and stripped of key features including livestreaming, comments, suggested videos and likes.”

Robinson’s channel had already been demonetized by YouTube in January for violations of its advertising policies.

Placing his videos behind an interstitial means that a warning appears before each video, cautioning that the content may not be appropriate for all audiences. Robinson’s videos were also stripped of view counts.

YouTube said it removes video content that violates its policies on hate speech, including the incitement of violence or hatred against members of a religious community, adding that the restrictions on Robinson’s channel are aimed at balancing freedom of expression with ensuring that its platform is a safe environment for users.

As for why Robinson’s channel wasn’t removed altogether, YouTube said it imposes that punishment on groups that have been proscribed by the U.K. government and individuals associated with those groups, and this was not the case with Robinson, adding that its goal is to uphold free expression and remain a point of public and historic record, but to also keep these videos from being spread or recommended.

Labour Party deputy leader and U.K. shadow digital secretary Tom Watson sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai last month, urging the immediate removal of Robinson’s channel.

He wrote, in part, “As the U.K.’s shadow digital secretary, I have recently been making the argument that the social media companies have failed to regulate hate speech and harm on their platforms. It is clear, as I am sure you are aware, that U.K. legislators are now moving rapidly toward introducing legal regulatory powers to deal with those who seek to use the garb of freedom of speech to instead preach violent hate with the aim of damaging and undermining our society.”

Watson added, “I would ask that you immediately close down all of Yaxley-Lennon’s sites on YouTube before the virus of his views grooms countless more followers on your platform.”


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
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