A Times story on YouTube 'cashing in' on anti-vaxxers is an invitation to censors
It’s feeding time again.
As regular as the seasons, The Purge comes round.
The Purge is a core culture war activity. It is the regular pruning of the Overton Window by the media-tech complex.
The latest instalment is a Times ‘investigation’ this week, headlined: “YouTube cashes in with advertisements on Covid misinformation videos”.
“YouTube is using an algorithm to serve up adverts from organisations,” we learn in the piece, “including Amnesty, Vodafone, Disney and HelloFresh, the meal-kit provider, alongside disturbing content.”
The Times goes on to hone in on British vlogger Alex Bellfield, who is accused of taking a call from a 5G conspiracist on one of his live phone-in shows, “which included adverts for organisations including Vodafone and Trainline.”
In a perfect conspiracist tribute, journalist Ben Ellery joins random dots between the mob who surrounded Keir Starmer, an anti-vax rapper, K Koke, and a channel called Rotten Politics, “estimated to earn its owner up to £9,000 a year.”
Among Bellfield’s misinformation crimes, Ellery says, is that Belllfied’s channel “features the parliamentary footage of Boris Johnson accusing Starmer of failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile with the caption “BREAKING WOW Boris blames Keir for letting off evil BBC Saville (sic) (clapping hands emoji) HUGE STARMER FAIL”.
To which the only sane response is: ‘crying with laughter emoji’.
The news that algorithms are used to serve internet ads is not news. But a Purge does not depend on news — it depends on the news cycle. On being able to peg into other events: be it Joe Rogan or PewdiePie, who became a notable example of a Purge in 2018 when the wildly famous YouTuber posted a video in which he paid a pair of Indians who advertised they would ‘read any message’ for cash, to hold up signs saying revolting slogans in order to prank them. The worst sign read “Death to All Jews”.
The Purge is not like cancellation, because what happened next wasn’t really about PewDiePie. Instead, it became a George Floyd-style theatrical centrepiece in an attempt to delete the revenue streams of thousands of medium-sized YouTube accounts deemed beyond the political pale.
The next phase involved journalists going to advertisers and saying: “Don’t you know what your product is being advertised next to?”, and presenting them with a handsome bucket of the lowest tier of filth, hard won through an afternoon’s googling.
YouTube responded by banning many medium-sized accounts, and ending the ad revenue privileges of many others. The same pattern has played out several times now, with other inciting incidents. As the attempt to defenestrate podcast king Joe Rogan rumbles on into its fourth week, with even the White House weighing in against him, the blood is up in those sectors of journalism that regularly engage in Purge activity. Now, just wait and see what happens after this Times investigation.
So, as with Roman politics, there is a kind of elite double-act going on here. The journalists are pleading to YouTube, the enlightened despot who, wringing hands, clutching pearls, dabbing hanky, regretfully accedes to the crowd’s demands. And the cycle will continue on and on until there is very little to discuss at all.