YouTube has taken down more than 70,000 videos and 9,000 channels related to the war in Ukraine for violating content guidelines, including removal of videos that referred to the invasion as a “liberation mission”.
The platform is hugely popular in Russia, where, unlike some of its US 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 cracking down on pro-Kremlin content that has broken guidelines including its major violent events policy, which prohibits denying or trivialising the invasion.
Since the conflict began in February, YouTube has taken down channels including that of the pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Solovyov. Channels associated with Russia’s Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs have also been temporarily suspended from uploading videos in recent months for describing the war as a “liberation mission”.
YouTube’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, said: “We have a major violent events policy and that applies to things like denial of major violent events: everything from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook. And of course, what’s happening in Ukraine is a major violent event. And so we’ve used that policy to take unprecedented action.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Mohan added that YouTube’s news content on the conflict had received more than 40m views in Ukraine alone.
“The first and probably most paramount responsibility is making sure that people who are looking for information about this event can get accurate, high-quality, credible information on YouTube,” he said. “The consumption of authoritative channels on our platform has grown significantly, of course in Ukraine, but also in countries surrounding Ukraine, Poland, and also within Russia itself.”
YouTube did not provide a breakdown of the taken-down content and channels but Mohan said much of it represented Kremlin narratives about the invasion. “I don’t have the specific numbers, but you can imagine a lot of it being the narratives that are coming from Russian government, or Russian actors on behalf of the Russian government,” he said.
YouTube has an estimated 90 million users in Russia, although it no longer allows advertising on the platform in the country. The decision by YouTube’s parent company, Google, has drawn protests from Navalny, who said well-targeted ads helped counteract Kremlin propaganda.
“YouTube remains the largest video-sharing site up and running in Russia itself,” said Mohan. “So 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 of the country. We remain an important platform for Russian citizens themselves as this crisis continues to evolve.”
Last week, the Russian minister for digital development, Maksut Shadaev, said the country would not block YouTube, despite disputes over content that have resulted in the platform being fined in court for not removing banned videos.
Shadaev indicated that blocking Russia’s most popular social media platform would affect users. “We are not planning to close YouTube,” the minister said. “Above all, when we restrict something, we should clearly understand that our users won’t suffer.”
YouTube has also placed a worldwide ban on channels associated with Russian state media, 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-owned media.