YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, in a recent interview with CNN, said that “Anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) responded in a tweet on April 22: “Absurd: The WHO shamelessly broadcasts Chinese communist propaganda, and now YouTube is saying it will censor anything contrary to the WHO. The CCP shouldn’t be running Silicon Valley, or trampling free speech in America.”
The international health body was criticized for advising countries not to impose restrictions on international travel and trade as a means to curb the spread of the virus. The United States banned travelers from mainland China on Jan. 31
It also drew scrutiny for ignoring a warning from Taiwan officials in late December about the virus’s risk of human-to-human transmission.
The WHO initially repeated Beijing’s claim that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission” on Jan. 14. Beijing didn’t admit the virus was contagious until Jan. 20.
On April 17, President Donald Trump questioned the WHO for ignoring Taiwan’s December warning that the virus could be transmitted between humans.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) similarly called out the WHO for disseminating inaccurate information: “The @WHO gave inaccurate information about the spread of the virus, still parrots Chinese propaganda, and fought @realDonaldTrump’s China travel ban…It is alarming that @YouTube now relies on the @WHO’s biased recommendations to decide what video content to take down,” she said in a tweet.
According to State Department statistics, U.S. contributions exceeded $400 million to the WHO in 2019, while China provided $44 million in the same year.
In response to Wojcicki’s comment, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) expressed his concerns about big tech’s powerful role in society. “Tech censorship threatens free speech, free markets, free elections and even public health! The @WHO repeated Communist China’s propaganda as the #coronavirus spread around the world while @youtube removes dissenting views! This is why we need my Stop the Censorship Act,” he tweeted.
In July last year, Gosar introduced the “Stop Censorship Act” (H.R.4027), which would amend section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. According to a press release, the bill would “revoke the unprecedented and unwarranted immunities given to Big Tech for the censorship of ‘objectionable’ content.”
Beijing’s influence on YouTube’s policies was under scrutiny after several videos about the virus outbreak published outside China were recently slapped with a yellow dollar sign.
YouTube flags videos with the yellow dollar sign if it deems the video content not suitable for ads, meaning that creators of these videos are barred from most, if not all, ad revenue generated. Creators can request a manual monetization review to appeal for the yellow label to be removed.
Most recently, on April 20, YouTube blocked a channel called “Caijing Lengyan,” run by a Chinese independent economist who calls himself “Leng Yan,” after the economist made a video that explained China’s incentives for promoting digital currency, such as the ability to monitor people’s purchasing behavior.
Two days later, he announced via his Twitter account that YouTube lifted its ban, thanks to media coverage by Chinese-language outlets outside China. However, he added that he lost about 2,000 fans during the ban.
Speaking to the Chinese-language Epoch Times, he said that YouTube first removed his video on digital currency, but reinstated it after his appeal. He questioned what had driven YouTube to ban his channel completely.
He suspected that China’s “fifty-cent army”—internet users who are reportedly paid a meager 50 cents by the CCP for every comment they leave on news articles and social media defending the Chinese regime—might have intentionally reported his channel to YouTube.
He said his YouTube videos do not include incendiary speech or have marketing purposes, so it should not violate the video platform’s terms and conditions.
He called the ban on his channel a “threat and betrayal” to freedom of speech.