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YouTube’s messy fight with its most extreme creators

The platform has become a haven for the far right. What now?

Search YouTube for topics like “immigration,” “Islam,” or “feminism” and you’ll inevitably come across the work of the YouTube right — a growing network of right-wing vloggers, media operations, and conspiracy theorists who’ve built their audiences primarily on the platform. They’ve earned millions of followers by decrying political correctness, warning about the dangers of Islam and mass migration, and mocking social justice warriors.

And they’ve been able to do it because, unlike Fox News or conservative talk radio, these YouTubers don’t have to worry about answering directly to corporate advertisers. For the most part, advertisers work with YouTube, which then decides which videos to place ads on and how to pay creators for their work.

That’s allowed YouTube to flourish as a kind of radical free speech experiment, but it’s also led to the outgrowth of a tremendous amount of extremism, hate speech, and conspiracy theories on the platform.

And it’s starting to make advertisers uncomfortable.

In March this year, 250 advertisers pulled back from YouTube after reports that ads were appearing on extremist content, including white supremacist videos. As a result, YouTube demonetized a wide range of political content, including videos that didn’t include hate speech but might still be considered controversial by advertisers. Creators called it “the adpocalypse” — they saw their incomes from YouTube evaporate without fully understanding what they’d done wrong or how to avoid demonetization in the future.

This is part of a broader battle between YouTube’s creators — who want the freedom to speak their minds without fear of corporate censorship — and advertisers, who want to know the platform can rein in its worst excesses.

You can find this video and all of Vox's videos on YouTube. Subscribe for more episodes of Strikethrough, our series exploring the media in the age of Trump.

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