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Austrian white nationalist accused of ties to New Zealand mosque shooter is making money off YouTube

Martin Sellner raked in €​545 from donations during one, 45-minute press conference on YouTube, where he denied having ties to the New Zealand mosque shooter.

by Tess Owen
Mar 29 2019, 8:19pm

Austrian white nationalist Martin Sellner, who is under investigation for possible ties to the New Zealand mosque shooter, has been earning money through YouTube’s “Super Chat” function.

Super Chat, which was introduced in 2017, allows viewers of YouTube live streams to promote their comments by making donations larger than $5. YouTube receives a 30 percent cut of the donations.

Just this week, Sellner, 30, raked in €545 (or about $611) from Super Chat donations during a 45-minute press conference live-streamed on Youtube, according to social media intelligence agency Storyful and confirmed by VICE News. He gave the presser to defend himself against allegations that he had ties to the mosque shooter, who killed 50 people after open firing on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month.

Sellner confirmed on Tuesday that the shooter had donated about €1,500 (or about $1,682) to his group, the “Identitarian Movement Austria” (IBÖ), which the Austrian government is currently deciding whether to label as a terrorist organization. Sellner called the amount “disproportionately high.”

Individual payments on Sellner’s live presser ranged between €5 and €100 in Euros, Swedish Krona, Danish Krona, and Swiss Francs. And the more someone donates on Super Chat, the longer their comment on that particular video stays promoted. One viewer on Sellner’s presser, for example, contributed €20 to promote his comment, which was written in German and translated roughly to “Support continues from Neuruppin [a town in Germany]. Keep going like that, Martin.”

YouTube did not respond to a request for comment, but the company’s policy on Super Chats says that comments could be moderated — but won’t necessarily be moderated: “If a Super Chat is moderated and removed for violating our policies, YouTube will donate our portion of revenue to charity.” YouTube’s policies don’t address what happens to a broadcaster’s portion of the earnings if a comment is removed for violations.

YouTube policies also say it doesn’t allow hate speech on its platform and that it removes content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on attributes like race, religion, gender, age, nationality, and more. The company also flags some videos “as sensitive,” that, in its view, don’t rise to the level of hate speech.

But those policies have been repeatedly scrutinized in recent years. In particular, experts have pointed to what they call the “rabbit hole effect” that they say YouTube’s recommendation algorithm enables and can contribute to online radicalization. That function automatically suggests videos similar to what someone had just watched. For example, users might be shown a series of video clips that become increasingly extremist and removed from the mainstream.

Earlier this week, Facebook and Instagram announced that they were banning white nationalism and white separatism from its platforms. Now, when users on those platforms try to post content that advocates those ideas, they’ll be redirected to Life After Hate, an organization that helps deradicalize far-right extremists. Youtube, however, kept quiet.

In an interview with The New York Times on Friday, YouTube’s Chief Product Officer Neil Mohan denied the idea that the platform’s algorithm drives users to extremist content. Mohan also stressed that it was difficult to strike a balance between upholding free speech and clamping down on extremism.

Austrian authorities raided Sellner’s house on Monday in search of evidence that could link him to the New Zealand shooter. By Thursday, Sellner said the U.S. denied him a travel permit. “Any connection between the Christchurch attacker and members of the Identitarians in Austria needs to be comprehensively and ruthlessly investigated,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had tweeted.

The day before the mosque attacks, the New Zealand shooter, who is Australian, published a lengthy online manifesto, which demonstrated his deep familiarity with ideas promoted by far-right activists like Sellner, who call themselves “Identitarians.” The shooter, during an extended trip through Europe and Asia, visited Austria between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4 last year.

Like others in the growing, global network of so-called “Identitarians,” Sellner has cultivated a preppy image and uses carefully chosen language to promote hateful, xenaphobic ideas that, at their core, are no different than those held by hardline neo-Nazis. He blogs about Muslim immigration and the need to protect “European” or “traditional” values. Sellner did not respond to a request for comment.

Joe LoCascio contributed to this report.

Cover image: Martin Sellner, leader of the right-wing populist Identitarian movement of Austria is seen giving an interview in Berlin, Germany, 05 November 2016. (Photo by: Paul Zinken/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)