This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 24, 2019.
As most of you are probably aware, YouTube recently changed its rules, drastically restricting the ability of content creators to share firearms-related videos.
Almost since its inception, the popular video streaming site has been the place to go for just about any sort of video-related content. Their service makes it easy to upload videos and share them with audiences across the world. Whether you’re an internet celebrity causing international outrage, an anime enthusiast looking to share your love with the world, or you just want to post videos of your animals doing silly stuff, YouTube is the go-to choice for many people.
For a long time, it’s been a haven for firearm enthusiasts as well. A number of household names within the 2A community got their start on YouTube, and its ubiquity undoubtedly played a large role in the creation of the veteran community’s biggest stars.
But, for the past several years, there’s been friction between YouTube and the 2A community, as well as many groups that fall more to the Right side of the political spectrum. For years, conservative content creators have accused YouTube and its parent company Google (now Alphabet) of suppressing their links, restricting or outright banning their content, and in general using their platform to wage ideological war across the Internet.
Perhaps the most well-known case came from Prager U, a conservative company that’s done a remarkably good job of establishing itself as the voice of the reasonable Right. Unlike the deliberately inflammatory “news” sites like Breitbart or The Blaze, Prager U’s videos take a reasoned, measured approach to explaining conservative ideas, and even debunking a few of the more popular ones.
They’ve done their level best to distance themselves from the Alt-Right, America’s current political bogeyman. In sharp contrast to Alex Jones’s bombastic conspiracy mongering, their videos appeal largely to dissatisfied Liberals, as well as college-age folks who haven’t quite figured out where they stand politically.
But, for the last couple of years, many of their videos on YouTube have been flagged as restricted, a label typically used for videos that are blatantly offensive. Though YouTube’s criteria for restricted videos are maddeningly opaque, it’s hard to justify equating measured political discourse with graphically violent or sexual content. What’s more, once a video has been flagged as restricted, there’s no appeals process to remove the label.
On the surface, their new rules regarding firearms content are simply an extension of that policy. Though they’ve long restricted outright gun sales, now they forbid content creators from linking to companies that sell weapons or weapon accessories, making instruction videos (for instance, how to assemble or disassemble a particular firearm, make silencers, explosives, etc), or, in a bizarre burst of specificity, mentioning bump stocks.
Given the current cultural zeitgeist surrounding gun control, it’s not all that surprising that a company with a long history of leaning towards the Left would wade into the gun control debate by drastically restricting the content it allows on its platform.
It’s equally unsurprising that the 2A community would be incensed by the move. YouTube’s ubiquity, coupled with the ability for content creators to monetize their videos, makes it possible to make a living off of creating and posting videos. For some of the more popular gun channels, it’s not just an attack on free speech, it’s an attack on their livelihoods.
So, when I say that this new wave of rules isn’t really that big of a deal, believe me when I say that your confusion is understandable. I mean, I’ve spent the last several hundred words laying out exactly the sort of discrimination that Conservatives have faced at the hands of YouTube. Why shouldn’t you be outraged?
Firstly, YouTube is a private company. Yes, their service is so universally relied upon that it could almost be considered a utility, but almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear weapons. They’re well within their rights to restrict the content they’re willing to host in whatever way they feel is necessary.
You have no constitutional right to the service they provide. If these new rules personally threaten your livelihood, you have my deepest condolences, but you signed the user agreement. They had you by the short and curlies from the minute you clicked I Agree. And given the political landmine that is gun culture in this day and age, if you didn’t see this coming, sorry, but you’re remarkably shortsighted. It was only a matter of time.
Secondly, this is a golden opportunity for the 2A community, and the political Right in general. As of this moment, there is no social media platform that caters to the needs of Conservatives. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, they’re all unabashedly liberal, and that’s reflected in their policies.
It’s hard to imagine a time before Facebook, and it’s equally hard to imagine a Facebook where Conservative, military, and 2A pages haven’t chafed under their restrictions. If I had a nickel for every time a popular veteran page went down for some reason or another, I could buy myself a nice dinner. Maybe not too nice, but you know, probably an entree at Applebee’s and a beer or two.
With this latest round of restrictions, 2A content creators are ditching YouTube in droves. Hell, one guy switched over to PornHub, which frankly seems like a stroke of genius. At the very least, it adds another layer of meaning to blowing a load.
Why not create a social media space that caters to the dissatisfied Right? The person who creates a platform equally as robust and user-friendly, that’s also friendly to Conservative ideals, stands to make a fortune.
Kevin Wilson is a thirteen-year veteran of the North Carolina Army National Guard, with deployments to Egypt and Syria. He was going to be a lifer like you, but then he took a staircase to the knee.