YOUTUBE has been accused of censorship after introducing a controversial new policy designed to reduce the audience for videos deemed to be "inappropriate or offensive to some audiences".
The Google-owned video site is now putting videos into a "limited state" if they are deemed controversial enough to be considered objectionable, but not hateful, pornographic or violent enough to be banned altogether.
This policy was announced several months ago but has come into force in the past week, prompting anger among members of the YouTube community.
The Sun Online understands Google and YouTube staff refer to the tactic as "tougher treatment".
One prominent video-maker slammed the new scheme whilst WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange described the measures as "economic censorship".
However, YouTube sees it as a way of maintaining freedom of speech and allowing discussion of controversial issues without resorting to the wholesale banning of videos.
Videos which are put into a limited state cannot be embedded on other websites.
They also cannot be easily published on social media using the usual share buttons and other users cannot comment on them.
Crucially, the person who made the video will no longer receive any payment.
Earlier this week, Julian Assange wrote: "'Controversial' but contract-legal videos [which break YouTube's terms and conditions] cannot be liked, embedded or earn [money from advertising revenue].
"What's interesting about the new method deployed is that it is a clear attempt at social engineering. It isn't just turning off the ads.
"It's turning off the comments, embeds, etc too.
"Everything possible to strangle the reach without deleting it."
Criticism of YouTube's policies is most acute among people on the right of the political spectrum, who fear that Silicon Valley is dominated by the left and determined to silence opposing voices - a claim denied by tech giants like Facebook and Google.
The new YouTube rules were highlighted this week by Paul Joseph Watson, a globally famous British right wing YouTuber and editor-at-large of Infowars, who spoke out after saying a guest on his online show had one of her videos removed after the appearance.
The black female YouTuber, who uses the name RedPillBlack, made a video entitled "WTF? Black Lives Matter Has A List of Demands for White People!" in response to a member of the activist's group calls for white people to "give up the home you own to a black or brown family".
The video was part of a series which features an offensive racial term in its name, which we have decided not to publish, and criticises the BLM member's statement point by point.
We watched her video and whilst it's clear that many people might disagree with the political point she is making, the actual video did not appear to be offensive or gratuitous.
"Some people might watch the video and think I'm speaking out against black people," she said in the video.
"But what I'm doing here is speaking up for black people."
The video was allegedly banned but later reinstated following a series of tweets from Watson, which you can see below.
On Twitter, the vlogger RedPillBlack wrote: "What does it mean when a company owned by rich white ppl begins censoring black people? Is this the white nationalism I should be scared of?"
She added: "They said it was for harassment and bullying. I literally just read the girl's list [of demands] out loud."
Reddit users are now building a record of all the videos which have been put into a limited state.
Many of the videos have clearly offensive.
Others discuss controversial, contested and highly inflammatory scientific theories about the link between race and intelligence.
Nazi videos featured heavily on the current list, with Hitler's speeches and even the Nazi national anthem being limited.
But amongst material that is clearly shocking and likely to cause grave offence are videos which discuss political issues such as the migrant crisis using non-extreme language.
You guide to YouTube's controversial new policy of 'limiting' access to videos
Here is what YouTube has to say about the scheme on its support page:
Our Community Guidelines prohibit hate speech that either promotes violence or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes.
YouTube also prohibits content intended to recruit for terrorist organisations, incite violence, celebrate terrorist attacks or otherwise promote acts of terrorism.
Some borderline videos, such as those containing inflammatory religious or supremacist content without a direct call to violence or a primary purpose of inciting hatred, may not cross these lines for removal.
Following user reports, if our review teams determine that a video is borderline under our policies, it may have some features disabled.
These videos will remain available on YouTube but will be placed behind a warning message and some features will be disabled, including comments, suggested videos and likes. These videos are also not eligible for ads.
If one of your videos has features disabled, we will send an email to notify you.
You can appeal the decision directly from a link in the email or by selecting the 'Appeal' link next to the video in Video Manager. Having features disabled on a video will not create a strike on your account.
You can tell a video has been put into a limited state because you have to click a button to watch it and are shown the words: "The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.
"In response to user reports, we have disabled some features, such as comments, sharing and suggested videos, because this video contains content that may be inappropriate or offensive to some audiences."
The Sun Online has learned that Google has been in contact with members of religious communities to discuss getting the balance right between censorship and open discussion.
We understand that the editor of a prominent Jewish newspaper advised the tech giant against simply blocking videos discussing disturbing subjects, suggesting that the best way to combat these views is to debate and defeat them in the open.
The new YouTube policy allows videos to be seen whilst stopping their makers from earning money and preventing them from easily spreading their message or having it automatically shown to others through the site's "recommended videos" service.
It is understood that the intention of the new "limited state" policy is to target content which is objectionable, but not illegal.
Google uses a team of thousands of community moderators to police content and decide whether it should be banned or limited.
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These teams are based at various sites around the world, a strategy intended to stop people from one side of the political spectrum coming together to dominate decisions and target specific content makers or groups.
Google does employ machine learning to target videos which are pornographic or depict extremist acts of violence.
This involves training computers to look for telltale signs of sex or violence, although Google does not publically reveal what its machine learning system is looking for.
Theoretically, a good way to root out porn would be to ask computers to look out for naked flesh or exaggerated groans, whilst machines could also be taught to recognise ISIS flags or look out for orange jumpsuits to target extremist vids.
Final decisions on whether to remove or limit content are taken by humans, who also investigate complaints from users about videos.
These staff members make their decisions using strict criteria set out by Google and YouTube.
However, the tech giant does not make these guidelines public - a strategy intended to stop people making videos designed to narrowly skirt its rules.
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The "tougher treatment" system is in its early stages and is likely to provoke more controversy in the coming months, particularly in an era where political debate online is highly polarised and extremely passionate.
Right-wingers on the internet believe Silicon Valley is dead set on censoring conservative websites and channels, taking its cue from over-sensitive members of Generation Snowflakewho are known for taking offence too easily.
At the same time, left-wingers think the right is spreading hate and must be silenced for the good of society.
The "culture war" between these two sides shows no signs of abating - and YouTube is the frontline in this increasingly vicious battle of ideas.
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