In late February, David Seaman published an angry video rant in which he complained about getting banned by YouTube for pushing conspiracies about the Parkland high school shooting.
“This is obscene, being censored in my own country,” Seaman said. “Who am I? I'm the journalist who helped break Pizzagate.”
Seaman certainly played a major part in popularizing the bizarre right-wing conspiracy theory that prominent Democratic politicians ran a child exploitation ring out of the basement of a Washington, DC, pizza shop. Before he was kicked off YouTube, he had more than 160,000 subscribers and his videos had been watched more than 11 million times, according to Social Blade, a social media tracking service.
Seaman’s daily dispatches about the secret forces running the world now live on BitChute, one of several services vying to become the preferred right-wing alternative to Google’s video streaming behemoth.
For years YouTube has been home to a large and influential network of people creating conspiratorial and far-right political videos. But a mixture of brand safety concerns from advertisers, criticism about the way its recommendation algorithms can push users to conspiratorial videos, and growing concerns about hate speech and misinformation led YouTube to exercise stronger moderation and hand out “strikes” to publishers that violate its policies. After three strikes, they’re banned from the platform, as was the case with Infowars’ Washington correspondent Jerome Corsi. He now regularly livestreams from Gab, the messaging platform best known for hosting trolls and neo-Nazis banned from Twitter. It recently rolled out a video platform.
The result of the YouTube crackdown is that prominent right-wing YouTubers are scrambling to find alternatives, setting up shop on YouTube wannabes, or even building their own video apps. It’s all in preparation for what they see as the inevitable day when YouTube gives them the boot or forbids them from making money on the platform by demonetizing all of their videos. (A similar dynamic is also underway with YouTubers who produce content about guns; BuzzFeed News recently reported that they’re creating their own firearm-friendly video platforms.)
BitChute founder Ray Vahey told BuzzFeed News in an email that YouTube has become “corporate and boring” and no longer cares about independent video creators, “and we're stepping into that gap.”
Many prominent right-wing YouTubers have already started BitChute accounts and are cross-posting their videos. This includes anti-immigration activist Lauren Southern, who has more than half a million subscribers on YouTube; Tarl Warwick, better known as Styxhexenhammer666, who frequently broadcasts wearing a leather jacket with no undershirt and who has dabbled in Holocaust revisionism; Stefan Molyneux, the self-styled philosopher who the Southern Poverty Law Center says promotes "scientific racism and eugenics"; and Colin Robertson, the Scottish white supremacist better known as Millennial Woes who has almost 50,000 subscribers on YouTube.
BitChute’s homepage, which displays the site’s most popular videos, reflects this rightward tilt. At the time of writing, it includes videos about Donald Trump, gun rights, white identity politics, and QAnon, the bonkers conspiracy theory popularized by Roseanne Barr. (There is currently no option to run advertising on BitChute.)
Gab added its own video service in August that it describes as a bulwark against censorship. Gab TV is currently only open to Pro users who pay $6 a month to unlock the feature, but the company says it’s growing quickly. In addition to Jerome Corsi, the main Infowars channel also regularly livestreams on Gab.
Video creators on Gab can accept tips or charge for subscriber-only content, but there is no advertising revenue on the site at present. Gab says it plans to roll out cryptocurrency payments in the future.
Another video service pinning its hopes on cryptocurrencies is DTube. The site uses blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin, to store some data, and users can also accept cryptocurrency payments. DTube explicitly pitches itself as an alternative to YouTube that is more resistant to censorship due to its decentralized architecture.
The site’s creator, Adrien, who spoke with BuzzFeed News on the condition his last name not be used, said that many conspiracy videos banned on YouTube have made their way over to DTube already. Some video creators, who haven’t been banned, are using DTube as a second source of income by accepting cryptocurrency payments. The site also hosts many nonpolitical videos.
Adrien warned that DTube is not yet ready for a mass migration from YouTube.
"It's not a robust product yet," Adrien said. "Right now we are way too young. If too many people start using us right now I don't think it would go well.”
Others in the right-wing media ecosystem have tried to build their own platforms from scratch.
Natural News, a website that traffics in highly dubious health advice and conspiracy theories, announced in February that it’s building a “pro-liberty video site” in response to YouTube’s “censorship rampage of conservative voices.”
The Canadian website the Rebel — which has employed prominent right-wing figures like Southern, Gavin McInnes, and Jack Posobiec — set out to build its own video app last year.
“Relying on YouTube is also a weakness for us, because what if they decide to cut us off one day?” the Rebel’s founder, Ezra Levant, said in a pitch video asking for donations. “YouTube is owned by Google, and we know they’ve been slowly tightening their restrictions around free speech, especially conservative free speech.”
Concerns about getting kicked off various platforms is nothing new for the online right. But while getting banned from Twitter is somewhat common, even a badge of honor for some, getting on YouTube’s bad side strikes at the core of the movement’s ability to spread its message, make money, and find new converts.
YouTube’s size and reach, especially among younger users, has been invaluable to the growth of the online right — a fact long recognized by some of its leading figures.
“While you are agonising over snipey little tweets to virtue signal to your echo chamber, I am red pilling an entire generation on YouTube,” Paul Joseph Watson, an editor with Infowars, tweeted last year. (Red pilling, in the jargon of the online right, means having your eyes opened to the truth about society, a reference to the movie The Matrix.)
A few months after that tweet, however, Watson published a sullen YouTube video in which he complained bitterly about various online platforms banning him and other right-wing figures and predicted a ban from YouTube as well.
“I need to seriously think about whether it's worth investing hundreds and hundreds of hours of my time every year into something that could just completely disappear when I wake up tomorrow morning," Watson said.
Southern was also vocal about her frustrations with YouTube in an interview with BuzzFeed News.
"It's absolute chaos. No one understands how this system works, and that's one of the big qualms YouTubers have with YouTube,” said Southern.
“At least explain to us how this works so we know what we're doing wrong — and they don't. They don't explain.”