YouTube is facing criticism for cracking down on videos documenting China's alleged abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the country's Xinjiang province. Reuters has learned that YouTube took down a dozen videos from Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights, and at one point removed the channel itself, for supposedly violating the site's anti-harassment policy through videos discussing the disappearance of people in Xinjiang. The site told Atajurt it received numerous "strikes" for videos in which people held up ID cards to show they were related to missing Xinjiang residents, breaking a rule against showing sensitive personal information.
The takedowns followed reports from unnamed parties.
YouTube restored some of the videos after appeals, but didn't explain why some of them remained out of view. The company asked Atajurt to blur or cut some of the IDs, but the channel is reluctant to do so as it might hurt the credibility of the videos. YouTube took the channel down on June 15th for the alleged violations and restored it three days later after "careful review" of an appeal, a spokesperson told Engadget.
Atajurt is backing up its videos through Odysee, a blockchain-based platform, in case YouTube pulls them down. It doesn't intend to stop releasing videos through Google's platform, though.
YouTube told Engadget it was receptive to videos documenting human rights abuses, and was aware that Atajurt didn't have a sinister intent when showing the ID cards. However, it argued that the rights group didn't have enough "educational, documentary, scientific, and artistic content" to allow an exception to its policies.
The takedowns raise questions both about the clarity of YouTube's policies and the origins of the requests. While Atajurt appears to have broken some rules, it's not certain how that applies to every video, or why the group didn't count for an exception. It's also notable that the takedowns came after reports, rather than YouTube's own moderation practices. Atajurt said it was concerned the takedown requests may have come from pro-China factions trying to suppress stories about horrors taking place in Xinjiang. YouTube might be caught in the middle of an ideological fight, and may have inadvertently helped the side trying to cover up terrible acts.