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YouTube's standoff with conservative Heritage Foundation

Photo: Carsten Rehder/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Heritage Foundation is preparing to unveil a video Tuesday that slams YouTube for what it says is the censorship of its voice on YouTube's platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: The video will be the first public acknowledgment of a months-long, behind-the-scenes dispute between the conservative think tank and the tech giant.

Details: In late September, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki met with Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James and other members of Heritage's leadership team at their offices in Washington, sources tell Axios.

  • The meeting, which isn't that unusual for either party, was used to discuss an array of issues, including censorship.
  • While sources say the gathering was cordial, the two groups came to a standstill over YouTube's removal of a 2017 video from Heritage's content arm, The Daily Signal.

YouTube removed the video, which features a doctor making a comment about transgender issues, as a violation of its hate speech policies. Sources say that the tech giant offered to re-list the video, but only if but only if The Daily Signal removed the transgender reference by the doctor. Heritage sees that either-or choice as censorship.

  • In the video, Dr. Michelle Cretella, a pediatrician, says, "See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm you’re mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender."
  • While The Heritage Foundation concedes that those comments are controversial, it argues that the topic of body alteration is worth having a civil debate around.
  • "As one of the largest content platforms in the world, YouTube should welcome more discussion rather than eliminating speech at the mob’s command,” said Rob Bluey, Heritage's vice president of communications, in a statement.

Between the lines: Heritage went through a similar standoff with Facebook, but eventually had its video reposted as a part of an appeals process.

The big picture: The standoff highlights a wider issue that conservatives face in squaring off against Big Tech. Some conservatives feel conflicted about crying foul over YouTube's decisions because of their belief that private companies should be free to set their own policies.

  • The Heritage Foundation, which has strong ties to the Trump Administration, takes a conservative positions on issues likes abortion and LGTBQ rights, but it also promotes free market economics and deregulation.
  • "As conservatives who believe in free enterprise, the last thing we should be calling for is government regulation or coercion of private companies," Bluey said.

Go deeper: Inside YouTube's hate speech minefield