YouTube has removed more than 70,000 videos and 9,000 channels related to the war in Ukraine for violating content guidelines, including removing videos that called the invasion a “liberation mission”.
The platform is hugely popular in Russia, where, unlike some of its American peers, it has not been shut down despite hosting content from opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny. YouTube has also been able to operate in Russia despite a crackdown on pro-Kremlin content that violated guidelines, including its major violent events policy, which prohibits denying or trivializing the invasion.
Since the start of the conflict in February, YouTube has removed channels including that of pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Soloviev. Channels associated with Russia’s defense and foreign ministries have also been temporarily suspended from uploading videos in recent months for depicting the war as a “liberation mission”.
YouTube product manager Neal Mohan said, “We have a major violent events policy and that applies to things like major violent events denial: everything from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook. And of course, what is happening in Ukraine is a major violent event. And so we used this policy to take unprecedented action.
In an interview with the Guardian, Mohan added that YouTube news content about the conflict has received more than 40 million views in Ukraine alone.
“The first, and probably most important, responsibility is to ensure that people seeking information about this event can get accurate, high-quality, and credible information on YouTube,” he said. “The consumption of authoritative channels on our platform has increased significantly, of course in Ukraine, but also in countries surrounding Ukraine, Poland and also in Russia itself.”
YouTube did not provide a breakdown of the removed content and channels, but Mohan said much of it represented Kremlin accounts of the invasion. “I don’t have the exact numbers, but you can imagine a lot of it is stories coming from the Russian government or from Russian actors on behalf of the Russian government,” he said.
YouTube has around 90 million users in Russia, although it no longer allows advertising on the platform in the country. The move by YouTube parent Google drew protests from Navalny, who said well-targeted ads helped counter Kremlin propaganda.
“YouTube remains the largest operational video-sharing site in Russia itself,” Mohan said. “Thus, YouTube is a place where Russian citizens can get uncensored information about the war, including from many of the same authoritative channels that we all have access to outside the country. We remain a platform important to Russian citizens themselves as this crisis continues to evolve.”
Last week, Russia’s Digital Development Minister Maksut Shadaev said the country would not block YouTube, despite disputes over content that saw the platform fined in court for not removing the videos prohibited.
Shadaev said blocking Russia’s most popular social media platform would affect users. “We are not considering shutting down YouTube,” the minister said. “Above all, when we restrict something, we must clearly understand that our users will not suffer.”
YouTube has also banned channels associated with Russian state media worldwide, including Russia Today and Sputnik. Facebook and Instagram are banned in Russia, and access to Twitter has been restricted, in response to the platforms’ own bans on Russian state media.