YouTube has long been acknowledged as, well, not exactly the friendliest place on the Internet. But as the far right has ascended in the wake of Donald Trump's election, many critics have accused the video-sharing website of being much worse than a playground for trolls; they believe that YouTube is an avenue for radicalization and recruitment.
Following complaints that the site's search algorithm was only thinly veiling caches of hateful propaganda, YouTube decided to exclude some users from monetizing their content. But while the site is no longer paying extremists, it is still very much hosting them.
The Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council, an organization facilitating collaboration between New York City-based anarchists, believes that the far right must be fought on every front. Accordingly, MACC recently released the No Platform for Fascism Tool Kit, a browser plug-in for both Chrome and Firefox, which each week serves users videos from neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and ethno-nationalist individuals and organizations to report. MACC's hope is that, through collective action, anti-fascists will be able to drive bigots from YouTube, effectively staunching their recruitment efforts.
“The No Platform for Fascism plug-in aims to prevent fascist, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist ideologies from gaining a foothold in the mainstream and to deny them the power to encourage violence against marginalized people,” representatives of MACC’s No Platform working group, who built the extension, told me in an email. Due to the collective nature of their work and the far right’s proclivity for doxing, the subjects asked to remain anonymous.
The No Platform for Fascism Tool Kit is intended to live in your browser’s toolbar. Its icon—the now well-known anti-fascist symbol of two flags—lights up when new videos are available to report. Clicking through the icon brings users to a YouTube video selected by researchers from MACC, who actively monitor neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups like Atomwaffem Division. With a click of the plug-in’s toolbar, which sits beneath YouTube’s search bar, users can report the video. Fields for category, timestamp, and even description are pre-filled with suggestions from MACC, but users can alter those as they see fit. After reporting one video, users can use the plug-in’s toolbar to move on to the next.
Videos are updated weekly. Following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, for example, MACC immediately targeted videos of the white supremacist militia Republic of Florida, who initially claimed the alleged gunman as one of their own. ROF’s attempt to “gain more attention and recruit new members,” as MACC describe it, is exactly the kind of ploy the plug-in was made to stop. At the time of this writing, the browser extension on Firefox was directing users to discussions about white nationalism, interviews with Richard Spencer, and Traditionalist Worker Party propaganda about “#WhiteLivesMatter.” In commentary for the latter, the plug-in prefilled “This video, put out by a Neo Nazi group, is extremely anti-Semitic. It is full of accusatory conspiracy theories against Jewish people and calls on non-Jewish white people people to rise up against Jewish people. Get this off of YouTube!”
Although some users may have concerns that the plug-in facilitates “brigading,” or the abuse of online voting systems by organizing users to act en masse (rather than from their own individual judgement), MACC rejects this characterization.
"The No Platform for Fascism plug-in is not a brigading mechanism. Users elect to report, or not to report, each video and modify the report form content as they wish," MACC said. "Reporting is made easier but is not automated, nor are any fake accounts or reports created. . .Moreover, the purpose of the plug-in is to highlight actual existing YouTube content that goes against YouTube’s own policies."
To date, MACC’s plug-in has been used to file nearly 2,000 reports. Although YouTube does not disclose the exact rationale for why it removes videos, eight of the most popular videos of far-right propaganda targeted by the browser extension, including the entire account of Atomwaffen, are now down. The No Platform working group is currently developing a new feature that would allow users to suggest videos, effectively expanding MACC’s network of researchers.
“Contrary to popular perceptions of anti-fascist organizing as consisting solely of direct, street-level confrontation, anti-fascism also has room for a variety of other strategies and tactics: research and monitoring of neo-Nazi groups, call-in campaigns, education about movements and groups, and building coalitions with other organizers,” MACC said.