The Nazi swastika has always been of the most salient symbols of evil and there has been no lack of online storms about products or websites that display it.
With Holocaust denial and antisemitism raging on many prominent social media platforms, Facebook and others recently decided to take action, taking down groups and pages, and banning content deemed antisemitic. YouTube, which has for a long ago been a favorite among extrmeists seeking to push out their views, has also tried to limit Nazi imagery on its platform.
The problem is that social media networks rely on technological solutions - namely filtering content based on artificial intelligence. These automatic technologies are simply not good enough yet and therefore fail to take context into account. At best, YouTube makes do with outsourcing content moderation to subcontractors tasked with going over hours and hours of videos to determine what is hateful and what is not. Many times, non-offensive and even educational contnet falls victim and fails to make the cut.
For example, this is what happened this week to “EasyWay,” an popular Israeli YouTube Channel whose goal is to explain a wide variety of subjects in the simplest way possible. Among them, he created a series of clips called “In Short,” which deal with history, and includes two clips devoted to Word War II, which were posted to YouTube in 2018.
“Of course there’s use of symbols from Germany of that period, but their use is for learning purposes and there’s no attempt to glorify the Nazis,” Doran Shafrir who runs the YouTube channel told Haaretz on Wednesday. That made no difference to YouTube, which restricted the age of viewers.
“Yesterday I found out that YouTube decided that one of my videos doesn’t suit their rules, and it was blocked to all users under age 18,” Shafrir said.
What makes the move so upsetting to Shafrir is that he considers YouTube part of a “a kind of new ‘print revolution'’” in terms of its potential effects on learning and education. This he says is especially true during the coronavirus pandemic when so many schoolchildren have only access to remote learning. Blocking access to the video, he says “is a scandal that damages the ability of the platform to be a positive force of learning for the general population,” he said.
In fact, many teachers use his videos as complementary study material for their students, as he and people posting on the channel have noted. This issue they noted is that these viewers are by definition under the age of 18. Following a request from Haaretz, Google, which owns YouTube, conceded that the age restriction on Shafrir’s videos was a mistake, and it has been removed.