YT Flagging "State-Sponsored" Videos Is Faux Transparency

YouTube has announced a new change in policy which will serve users based within the United States flagging notices alerting them if a news outlet has received any degree of state funding, according to a report from The Hill.

Labelled a complicit purveyor of fake news — one of the many scapegoats coined by losing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — Silicon Valley’s video-sharing tech giant has been thrust into the role of cautious curator against media outlets considered “false propaganda.”


Released on YouTube News’ official blog, senior product manager Geoff Samek made a public statement detailing how a small warning label will be attached to certain videos and channels to disclose their financial ties to governments and affiliated organizations, and will also include a link to articles on Wikipedia about the outlet so the viewer can do their own reading.

Mr. Samek said the following:

“News is an important and growing vertical for us and we want to be sure to get it right, helping to grow news and support news publishers on YouTube in a responsible way.

This notice on publishers receiving public or government funding, though still in its early stages, not only carries forward our work in this area through 2017, but represents one of many more steps we will take throughout 2018 to improve how we deliver news content on YouTube.”

Initially, one can admire the bullshit pro-transparency framing of this. If we expect our politicians to have their financial ties open — with their emails readily available for the public to comb through — the fourth estate in the media would seem like a natural choice to follow suit, no?

Only this isn’t a grassroots call for transparency for the good of the viewer, but rather governmental pressure on social media companies from Capitol Hill.

In October of last year, shortly after the whistleblowing news outlet Wikileaks began their release of The Podesta Emails, top members of the government held Congressional hearings demanding tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google take action against the conspiratorial “hacking and meddling” by the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election.

“You have been identified as major purveyors of fake news,” said Joe Manchin, the Democratic Senator from West Virginia — sharing the same name and busybody red-scare behavior of former Senator Joe McCarthy, funny enough. Oklahoma Republican Senator John Kennedy admitted “your power sometimes scares me,” followed by a clear threat from California Senator Dianne Feinstein who told those at the hearing, “you have to be the ones to do something about it… or we will.”

And Silicon Valley appear to have followed Mummy Government’s orders for a regulated press — you can take your pick whether this was through the kindness of their heart or state coercion— cracking down on the expected targets of RT, formerly called Russia Today, as well as Sputnik which the U.S. intelligence community have decreed via report to be “Kremlin propaganda”.

This follows the freedom of the press crackdown of the U.S. government in November, previously covered on TrigTent, when RT was forced to register as a “foreign agent” within a week’s time or face heavy fines (up to thousands of dollars) or potential jail time — a Neo-McCarthy move of aggression which was not repeated in the case of Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Britain’s BBC or China’s CCTV.

YouTube, despite their inevitable faults, appears to be going forward with a more egalitarian approach to their branding, including outlets like PBS in this new program. As reported by The Washington Post, a PBS spokesman commented:

“Labelling PBS a ‘publicly funded broadcaster’ is both vague and misleading. PBS and its member stations receive a small percentage of funding from the federal government; the majority of funding comes from private donations.

More importantly, PBS is an independent, private, not-for-profit corporation, not a state broadcaster. YouTube’s proposed labeling could wrongly imply that the government has influence over PBS content, which is prohibited by statute.

If YouTube’s intent is to create clarity and better understanding, this is a step in the wrong direction.”

The funding of PBS was a hot-button topic during the 2012 presidential debates between former President Barack Obama and former Republican Governor Mitt Romney, who clashed on whether the station should receive funding. The network income of PBS is comprised of government agencies, dues paid by the station’s members, separate foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and donations from private citizens.

The spokesperson is fair to point out such a simple label takes away the nuance of their network, yet their silence on the RT foreign agent scandal exposes the slippery slope double standard the corporate media are willing to leverage — we’ll turn a blind eye until you try that on us.

For YouTube to be intellectually honest in flagging media outlets for governmental ties, the conversation can’t just stop at #RussiaGate. It must extend to the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV and all the way down to the media of the private sector Noam Chomsky described in his book “Manufacturing Consent.”

Speaking of the private sector, where do they factor into this free press financial transparency debate?

Will YouTube flag MSNBC and CNN? Say what you will about establishment Republican rags like National Review, they’re correct to point out how The Clinton Foundation’s website has millions of dollars in donations from Boeing — the company that sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, and satellites worldwide, while at the same time buying million dollar advertisement space on news networks.

Will YouTube flag Fox News? According to The Observer, it wasn’t so long ago that longtime Murdoch Ally, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, owned over $1.5B in 21st Century Fox shares before selling them through his investment firm Kingdom Holding Company.

This donation alone is enough to give Fox the red flag for any coverage of the Middle East pre and post selling his shares. Were they being accurate when so much of their financing came from the prince’s pocket? Are they more honest now that those shares are sold?

Will YouTube flag The Washington Post? TrigTent discussed the stunning crypto-fascist dealings between the U.S. government and Amazon’s billionaire newspaper owner Jeff Bezos. And we use that label “fascist” in the technical sense of the word. Remember, it was Italy’s own Benito Mussolini who said:

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

Seattle Times journalist Danny Westneat who broke the story, uncovering that among the 238 offers given to Amazon for their 50,000-employee hub known as HQ2 were proposals including immense tax brakes, direct control over their taxes (through a split private-public counsel , which could result in that money being used for their private interests), pocketing $1.32 billion of the taxes taken from their workers, as well as their own “Amazon Task Force,” comprised of exclusively public officials (read: tax-subsidized labor) who would watch over free public housing the government would grant to Amazon’s employees.  

How can we trust them for any analysis on the corporate giant? How can we trust any of them? And how can YouTube claim credibility if they let cases like this slide and not others like RT and PBS, home of Sesame Street?

Going forward, YouTube users should demand a consistent, nuanced approach to having a transparent free press - private, public and independent — not a multi-tiered, unjust system of red scares for one, demonizations for others, and complacency for those large enough to afford it.

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