YouTube is effectively censoring video content by barring videos that depict controversial subjects from collecting advertising revenue. A purist can argue that this isn’t truly censoring as YouTube is not actually banning the videos but only prohibiting them from collecting revenue. But given that producing videos isn’t costless, the effect is the same as banning videos on controversial subjects from all producers except those who can afford to produce their videos at a loss.
And as strongly as I decry YouTube’s choice to censor, I wholeheartedly support YouTube’s right to censor.
YouTube’s right to censor is no different from a baker’s right to refuse to make a pro-Nazi cake. Both YouTube and the baker offer a service. But any who would require either to perform the service against their will would grant himself a higher claim on YouTube’s or the baker’s labor and property than he would afford to YouTube or the baker themselves.
As it goes, YouTube’s decision to censor will prove to be either ineffective or moot. If viewers do not want to watch controversial videos, then they will choose not to watch those videos and, in so doing, the viewers themselves will deprive those videos of advertising revenue. YouTube’s prohibition would be moot. But if viewers do want to watch controversial videos, they will simply go to an alternate site that is friendly to such videos and watch them there. YouTube’s prohibition would be ineffective.
And herein lies a lesson in the power of markets. YouTube is a marketplace.
On YouTube, videos compete for views. Good videos garner more views and, with views, comes ad revenue. On the Internet, video hosting platforms compete for videos. Good platforms garner videos and, with videos, come viewers and, with viewers, comes ad revenue. In the end, YouTube’s policy will either have no effect on controversial videos, or it will give rise to a major YouTube competitor that is not hostile to controversial videos.
Either way, this decision is a mistake, but it is YouTube’s right to make it.