Aug 2, 2022 - Technology

Exclusive: YouTube has demonetized two Jordan Peterson videos

A photo of Jordan Peterson sitting in a chair

Peterson. Photo: Chris Williamson/Getty Images

YouTube has quietly stopped serving ads for a pair of videos that feature controversy-stirring Canadian professor Jordan Peterson deliberately misgendering actor Elliot Page and likening gender-affirming care for transgender people to Nazi-era medical experimentation.

Why it matters: The move is likely to anger Peterson's online supporters, who say the platform should not interfere with his speech at all — but it also won't satisfy his critics, who believe his words amount to prohibited speech that should be removed.

Driving the news:

  • In late June Twitter forced Peterson to delete tweets misgendering Page. The service has a policy that prohibits targeted misgendering and deadnaming as a form of harassment of transgender people.
  • Peterson then posted a 15-minute YouTube video attacking Twitter and its policies. The video repeatedly misnamed and misgendered Page, while also railing against gender-affirming healthcare and calling transgender identity "a viciously harmful fad."
  • A second Peterson video declares gender-affirming care — endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association and many other professional groups — as flatly wrong. "It's not just wrong," he says. "It's Auschwitz and Gulag-level wrong. It's Nazi medical experiment-level wrong."
  • YouTube demonetized both videos in recent weeks, meaning neither the platform nor Peterson will be able to earn income directly from ads on them. (The first video has more than 3 million views, and the second has topped 500,000 views.) However, YouTube left the videos up and continues to serve ads on Peterson's other videos.

What they're saying: "We set a high bar for what videos can make money on YouTube," YouTube told Axios in response to an inquiry. "Many videos that are allowed on YouTube are not eligible to monetize because they do not meet our ad-friendly guidelines." Peterson's two videos "violate our advertising policies around hateful and derogatory content, and have been demonetized."

Between the lines: While YouTube also has a hate speech policy and a harassment policy that can lead to videos being removed, a wide range of anti-transgender content is allowed to remain online.

  • YouTube, for example, says in its policy that it prohibit content that features "prolonged name calling or malicious insults based on intrinsic attributes, including sexual orientation or gender identity."
  • However, it doesn't view deliberately misgendering someone, even repeatedly, as a violation of that rule.
  • YouTube has said it has been actively looking at this policy in recent months, but acknowledges that no changes have been made.
  • Peterson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The big picture: Social media policy on these questions has taken on added importance as transgender rights have become a central point of focus for U.S. politicians on both sides of the aisle.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) posted a pair of tweets last month attacking and misgendering Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the highest ranking transgender person in the Biden Administration.
  • Twitter flagged the tweets for violating its rules, but allowed both to remain on the service based on a practice of often labeling — but not removing — tweets from elected officials that would otherwise violate its terms of service.

A recent GLAAD report highlighted the link between discussions on social media and the ideas and language finding their way into anti-trans legislation. The same report gave failing marks to all of the major social media networks for keeping their users safe.

  • “In demonetizing these two videos, YouTube is confirming that Jordan Peterson’s hate-driven anti-trans rhetoric is in violation of the platform’s community guidelines,” a GLAAD spokesperson told Axios.
  • However, the organization says, YouTube should have taken the videos down entirely. "It is shameful that these videos remain active, with millions of views, continuing to perpetuate hateful and false narratives at the expense of trans people everywhere.”

Be smart: Activists on all sides know the limits of each service's policies. Those on the left are pushing for stricter rules on hate speech and tighter enforcement of policies already in place. Meanwhile, many on the right actively flout the existing rules, using any punitive action as an opportunity to argue to their supporters that they are being "canceled."

  • While the specter of demonetization can help dissuade some from breaking YouTube's rules, critics say YouTube is far too reliant on the technique. They note that controversial content creators can use demonetized videos to drive traffic to other videos that do host ads, as well as to merchandise, Patreon feeds and other revenue sources.
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