YouTube, a popular media site for firearms enthusiasts, this week quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate.
YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster. Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms. The video site, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, has faced intense criticism for hosting videos about guns, bombs and other deadly weapons.
For many gun-rights supporters, YouTube has been a haven. A current search on the site for “how to build a gun” yields 25 million results, though that includes items such as toys. At least one producer of gun videos saw its page suspended on Tuesday. Another channel opted to move its videos to an adult-content site, saying that will offer more freedom than YouTube.
“We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies,” a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. “While we’ve long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories.”
YouTube has placed greater restrictions on content several times in the past year, responding to a series of issues with inappropriate and offensive videos. Most of those changes involved pulling ads from categories of videos. Google is more reluctant to remove entire videos from YouTube, but has been willing to do so with terrorism-related content.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, called YouTube’s new policy “worrisome.”
“We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales,” the foundation said in a statement. “We see the real potential for the blocking of educational content that serves instructional, skill-building and even safety purposes. Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech.”
The firearms decision comes days before Saturday’s March For Our Lives, a rally organized by survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
The new YouTube policies will be enforced starting in April, but at least two video bloggers have already been affected. Spike’s Tactical, a firearms company, said in a post on Facebook that it was suspended from YouTube due to “repeated or severe violations” of the video platform’s guidelines.
“Well, since we’ve melted some snowflakes on YouTube and got banned, might as well set IG and FB on fire!,” Spike’s wrote on Facebook, where it has over 111,000 followers, referring to the social network and its Instagram app. A YouTube spokeswoman said the channel has been reinstated after it was mistakenly removed.
InRange TV, another channel devoted to firearms, wrote on its Facebook page that it would begin uploading videos to PornHub, an adult content website.
“YouTube’s newly released released vague and one-sided firearms policy makes it abundantly clear that YouTube cannot be counted upon to be a safe harbor for a wide variety of views and subject matter,” InRange TV wrote. “PornHub has a history of being a proactive voice in the online community, as well as operating a resilient and robust video streaming platform.” PornHub didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the matter.
Last month, gun control activists escalated the pressure on tech giants for giving a platform to the National Rifle Association. A flurry of businesses cut ties with the pro-gun group after the deadly Parkland school shooting. Companies with streaming services, such as Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and YouTube, declined to remove the NRA channel.
— With assistance by Dashiell Bennett