Tommy Robinson's YouTube videos restricted after internet giant refuses to delete channel

MPs called for the channel to be removed after activist filmed himself outside critic’s house

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 02 April 2019 19:59 BST
Tommy Robinson hammers on door of critic in middle of night

YouTube has refused to delete Tommy Robinson’s channel and instead placed his videos under restrictions aiming to limit their spread.

The English Defence League founder has almost 390,000 followers on the site, which is his last remaining mainstream platform following the removal of his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

A YouTube spokesperson said Robinson’s videos did not violate its hate-speech policy, after calls from MPs for his account to be removed.

“After consulting with third-party experts, we are applying a tougher treatment to Tommy Robinson’s channel in keeping with our policies on borderline content,” a statement said.

“The content will be placed behind an interstitial [warning page], removed from recommendations, and stripped of key features including livestreaming, comments, suggested videos, and likes.”

YouTube said it would delete Robinson’s channel if it violated its hate-speech policies, which prohibit the “incitement of violence or hatred against members of a religious community”, or had links to banned groups.

Anyone clicking on one of Robinson’s videos is now greeted with a warning reading: “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.”

Robinson can no longer livestream on his channel or see view counts. Further recommendations are not displayed and people cannot comment.

While Robinson’s YouTube channel still appears as a top hit for parent company Google, it does not display as an internal search result.

Stand Up to Racism organiser Michael Bradley told The Independent the channel should have been deleted.

“Any restriction is welcome but Robinson’s account isn’t about freedom of speech, it’s about the promotion of hatred,” he said.

“Whatever YouTube’s policies are, Tommy Robinson uses it to promote his own behaviour and a far-right agenda and he shouldn’t be allowed to use it.

“He uses it as a platform, he uses it to gain funds, and YouTube clearly agree that there’s a problem.”

Matthew McGregor, campaigns director at Hope Not Hate, said social media platforms were “vital” to Robinson’s personal fundraising.

A warning now appears on YouTube videos on Tommy Robinson’s personal channel

“Pew research suggests that a whopping 81 per cent of users watch recommended videos, so turning that tap off is a good start,” McGregor added. “But people will rightly ask why YouTube are providing a platform for hate speech at all.”

YouTube said it aimed to strike a balance between upholding free expression and a point of public record, while preventing videos being recommended to new audiences.

The same measures are being applied to other channels that contain controversial religious or extremist content but do not violate YouTube policies on hate speech and violent extremism, it said.

Robinson’s channel was demonetised for breaching YouTube advertising policies in January – although he still asks for donations in videos – and his Facebook and Instagram profiles were deleted over hate speech in February.

Calls mounted for YouTube to delete Robinson’s page in March, after he livestreamed himself visiting the house of critic Mike Stuchbery at night and banging on doors and windows.

Threatening journalists who covered the delivery of a legal letter accusing him of defamation, Robinson said: “You see this noise, it’s coming to a door near you lads, and we’ll see how clever you all find it.”

After Robinson filmed Mr Stuchbery’s home and read out the address, his followers started visiting and leaving notes.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, raised the incident in the House of Commons and called for YouTube to stop hosting his videos because of the “hateful conduct”.

Culture secretary Jeremy Wright urged the internet giant to “consider its judgement” over keeping Robinson’s channel online, telling MPs the incident at Mr Stuchbery’s home was “beyond the reach of the type of freedom of speech that we believe should be protected”.

Tommy Robinson at a pro-Brexit protest on 29 March

“All internet companies, all platforms for this kind of speech need to take their responsibilities seriously,” he added.

Robinson had previously been banned from Twitter and PayPal over his activities, and his website was deleted in December.

YouTube cited a difference in content as the reason it was not following the lead taken by other social media platforms.

Before his Facebook ban in February, Robinson’s YouTube account had not seen activity in almost a year.

He did not use it to livestream and the videos on his channel were more formal news-report-style pieces, mainly from his former work for Canadian website Rebel Media.

But he has more recently used the site to broadcast rants hitting out at critics and claiming he is being “persecuted by the state” and “censored”, while commenting on ongoing legal proceedings that could see him jailed for alleged contempt of court.

Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was freed in August over procedural failings and is awaiting a new hearing.

On Friday, his YouTube channel streamed footage from angry protests in Westminster, where he sponsored a Ukip rally against the “betrayal” of Brexit.

In November, he was appointed by Ukip leader Gerard Batten as the party’s adviser on grooming gangs and prisons, and has since set up a new website and mailing list for “TR News”.

The Independent has contacted Robinson’s legal representatives for comment.

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