June 23, 2021

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YouTube Takes Down Ads Showing Belarusian Blogger’s Possibly-Forced Confession Video

YouTube Takes Down Ads Showing Belarusian Blogger’s Possibly-Forced Confession Video

Last Sunday Belarus “forcibly landed a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius and arrested the opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, who were on board,” Reuters reports.

By Tuesday the Guardian reports there was a “confession” video which the blogger’s father said his son had clearly been physically coerced into recording.

And then…

YouTube ran advertisements featuring confession videos published by Belarusian authorities of detained journalist and activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, according to a number of people on social media…

The YouTube advertisements appear to have been purchased by a pro-government channel with less than 2,000 subscribers with a name which translates to “Belarus, country for life.” The channel has published a number of viral videos about Belarus and its logo features the Belarusian presidential flag… Screenshots posted online suggest the ads displayed Protasevich’s confession video to viewers and directed them to a pro-government Telegram channel with almost 80,000 subscribers. At least one person on Twitter also reported seeing another ad from the same channel featuring Sapega’s confession tape.

A spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, said the company had identified both of the ads and took action against them according to its inappropriate content policy. “YouTube has always had strict policies around the type of content that is allowed to serve as ads on our platform,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We quickly remove any ads that violate these policies.” YouTube generally allows advertisers to run political ads, but its rules around inappropriate content prohibit those that “single out someone for abuse or harassment; content that suggests a tragic event did not happen, or that victims or their families are actors, or complicit in a cover-up of the event.”

The advertisements raise questions about YouTube’s ability to effectively moderate how its platform may be used to amplify questionable content in ads…

Tadeusz Giczan, editor-in-chief of NEXTA, the independent media organization Protasevich previously worked for, said on Twitter that Belarus officials have long used YouTube advertisements to spread propaganda. “Fun fact: for almost a year Belarusian state news agency BelTA has been using hostage videos like the one with Roman Protasevich as paid ads on YouTube with links to their network of pro-govt telegram channels,” he wrote. “We tried everything but YouTube says there’s nothing wrong about it.” Last year, several people complained online about YouTube advertisements promoting Belarusian government propaganda seemingly from the same channel.

YouTube did not immediately answer follow-up questions about whether it had previously taken action against the “Belarus, country for life” account.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.