YouTube censorship of election, COVID claims in crosshairs of U.S., Canadian courts

YouTube says it removed more than 35,000 "misinformation" videos in EU last year. 9th Circuit questions idea that YouTube "is not allowed to rely on government expertise." Quebec court greenlights class-action suit.

Published: May 17, 2024 11:00pm

YouTube's censorship of COVID-19 and election claims isn't a problem for the company in Europe. It might be a problem in North America.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing whether to prevent the Google-owned platform from censoring videos with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for the duration of his independent presidential candidacy, while a Canadian court greenlit a class-action lawsuit on behalf of both censored YouTube creators and viewers denied the opportunity to watch their videos.

Touting its efforts to protect next month's European parliamentary elections, YouTube disclosed in a May 9 blog post that it removed more than 35,000 purported "misinformation" videos last year. 

That recalls the Election Integrity Partnership, conceived and shepherded by the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, estimating that platforms removed, labeled or "soft-blocked" supposed misinformation reported through EIP's system 35% of the time in the 2020 U.S election season.

"Our global team of reviewers combine with machine learning technology to apply these policies at scale, 24/7," against hate speech, harassment, incitement to violence and "certain types of elections [sic] misinformation," the uncredited YouTube blog post says.

"Our Intelligence Desk has also been working for months to get ahead of emerging issues and trends that could affect the EU elections, both on and off YouTube," the also post reads. It's using artificial intelligence to further reduce views of "violative content," which was 11-12 of every 10,000 views in the fourth quarter of 2024.

Google didn't answer Just the News queries on whether the 35,000 figure referred to all misinformation or just election-related, or its response to the Canadian court decision and 9th Circuit oral argument.

Censorship of Kennedy for his statements on COVID-19 vaccines are prominent in the Twitter Files and other document tranches obtained through litigation and by Congress. Biden administration counterterrorism officials sought counsel from a group promoting his censorship.

Congressional Democrats tried to stop or at least limit Kennedy's testimony at a censorship hearing last year, citing his comments on COVID looking "ethnically targeted," then slurred him as a racist and antisemite when Republicans blocked their effort. 

Democrats also pressured YouTube to reverse its decision last summer to stop suppressing supposed 2020 election misinformation, even as it censored and throttled videos with Kennedy.

The contrarian scion of American Camelot is polling around 10% nationally in RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight averages. 

The cofounder of his super PAC claims RFK Jr. would beat the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees "with people just under 45" if the election were held now, and swing-state polling by The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Siena College shows him at 18% with voters under 30 and 14% with Latinos, two traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Two of three judges on the 9th Circuit panel showed skepticism toward Kennedy lawyer Scott Street at oral argument May 14 on his motion for preliminary injunction, even as Judge Consuelo Callahan acknowledged the Supreme Court's pending decision in the White House social media censorship case Murthy v. Missouri "might change the landscape" for its decision.

"So far these cases" alleging federally tinged censorship "have all fallen a little short of being able to show state action, and the platforms all say 'this is what we want to do,'" the George W. Bush appointee said. "Let's face it, the platforms might be aligned with what the present administration is."

That's why Kennedy is not "seeking relief based on coercion … we took Google at its word" that it agrees with federal "public health messaging," Street responded.

But when the 9th Circuit dismissed a challenge to the California secretary of state's office for flagging tweets, it noted a "constitutional problem would arise if Twitter had agreed to serve as an arm of the government."

"It seems you have a timing issue" because the medical misinformation policy invoked against Kennedy seems to have started "far earlier than when these videos were taken down," Joe Biden-appointed Judge Gabriel Sanchez said, calling the evidence "weak." 

Street countered that "Google was not using any policy to remove his speech prior to the summer/fall of 2021," when "the White House and the surgeon general [Vivek Murthy] were demanding more removal of speech" and "specifically identifying" Kennedy. 

He paraphrased White House aide Rob Flaherty stating its desire to "remove speech, viewpoints like" Kennedy's from Google in an email obtained in litigation, and Google's September 2021 communications to the White House about "a new policy" it will use to take down "more speech critical of public health messages."

Sanchez asked for evidence Google was "coerced into doing this or lost its own agency in deciding whether to remove videos," which he called "the dividing line." Under the California secretary of state decision Street invoked, "we don't have a problem," the judge said.

The problem is the amended policy itself, Street said: "It looks entirely to … the incumbent government to decide which viewpoints get removed. There is no evidence in the record of any kind of independent decision-making by Google." 

Sanchez interpreted Street as saying, "Google is not allowed to rely on government expertise" to vet videos for accuracy. Callahan asked "how's a court to determine whether a private entity … is acting on its own volition or pursuant to coercion from the government?"

Quebec Superior Court Judge Lukasz Granosik authorized class-action lawsuits against YouTube and Facebook on largely the same grounds late last month, The Gazette of Montreal reported. Both were brought by lawyer William Desrochers.

The YouTube class includes both Quebec users whose videos "directly or indirectly linked" to COVID were removed, and can seek $2,000 each in damages, and users who were unable to view them and can seek $1,000 each, since March 15, 2020.

Reclaim the Net, which posted the YouTube ruling and summarized it, told Just the News the French version was the only one. This reporter cites from Google Translate's somewhat intelligible English version when copied and pasted from the garbled PDF it rendered.

Lead plaintiff Éloïse Boies alleges YouTube has more than 5 million users in Quebec. It removed three videos from her "Élo Wants to Know” channel, one even titled "Censorship," which argued Amazon, Facebook, YouTube and the government "would censor information" and "the government would make propaganda."

Another video cited mRNA vaccine pioneer Robert Malone and other "scientific experts" who oppose COVID vaccination "but are censored," and alleged "no one is carrying out a real analysis of the risks and benefits of the vaccine …which has not been sufficiently tested."

The third video was an interview with French doctor and Réinfo Covid Collective spokesperson Louis Fouché. 

He said authorities falsely claimed COVID "was a deadly epidemic," when it is really "benign" for most people, and that "isolation, distancing, [and] wearing a mask" were necessary, when in fact most of their measures have "proven to be useless" and "cause significant collateral damage."

"Both early and late" non-vaccine treatments are available, but "they are prevented by the authorities," Fouché said. COVID vaccines are "neither effective nor safe for all age groups … scientific studies have been falsified and data has been manipulated," and " many people have been hypnotized by social engineering techniques and mass media."

YouTube said the videos violated its medical misinformation policy and contradicted World Health Organization and local authorities. Boies said it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Independent posted select portions of its own translation. 

Google "cannot immediately deny all responsibility" for "preventing certain people from posting videos and … other people from viewing these same videos," which "hinders the free circulation of ideas and exposes itself to having to defend its ways of doing things," the judge wrote. "Freedom of expression does not only mean freedom of speech, but also freedom of publication and freedom of creation.

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