How Medical and Legal Experts Are Garnering Youtube Audiences

CoViD-19 analysts are getting millions of views on YouTube, as the platform cracks down on messages that stray from those purported by the mainstream media (MSM).

Adapted from an article by Abby Ohlheiser, May 7, 2020 | Original Technology Review article here.

screenshots from valuetainment youtube channel

When the Alex Jones was kicked off YouTube and Facebook in 2018, the lesson was supposed to be that de-platforming is effective. Without access to his millions of followers on mainstream social media, Jones became an online ghost, diminished and shouting his dangerous unfinished business to a much smaller audience. But some people online took a second lesson from the change: unique views — those that are not promoted by the mainstream media — can build a Youtube audience, as people become disillusioned with the Mainstream Media (MSM) and seek the truth.

Patrick Bet-David’s response to Dr Judy Mikovits Video Banned by YouTube
and to he The May 7 Technology Review Article

Last week Patrick Bet-David, a popular financial YouTuber with more than 2.2 million subscribers, invited Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — one of the most high-profile proponents for properly-tested vaccines — for a two-hour interview on his channel.

At the beginning, Bet-David asked,

“Why’d you agree to do a long-form interview?”

The answer was obvious to Kennedy, one of many anti-untrested vaccination leaders trying to make themselves as visible as possible during the CoViD-19 pandemic, replied

“I’d love to talk to your audience."

Kennedy told Bet-David that he believes his own social-media accounts have been unfairly censored; making an appearance on someone else’s popular platform is the next best thing. Bet-David titled the interview “Robert Kennedy Jr. Destroys Big Pharma, Fauci & Pro-Vaccine Movement.” In two days, the video passed half a million views.

Two other interviews, in which anti-untested vaccines aired several claims about coronavirus and vaccines, were also monetized. Bet-David said in an interview that YouTube had allowed limited monetization on all three videos, meaning they can generate some revenue, but not as much as they would if they were fully monetized.

Is Youtube Becoming Just Another Mainstream Media Channel?

We asked YouTube for comment on all three videos on Tuesday afternoon. By Thursday morning, one of the three (an interview with anti-untrested vaccine advocate Judy Mikovits) had been deleted for violating YouTube’s policies. Before it was deleted, the video had more than 1 million views. YouTube said that the other two videos were borderline, meaning that YouTube decided they didn’t violate its rules, but would no longer be recommended or show up prominently in search results.

After we asked YouTube for comment, one of the three videos had been deleted. Before it was deleted, the video had more than 1 million views. According to YouTube’s own rules, videos containing “medical information” about CoViD-19 that does not match the stories covered in mainstream media are against advertiser guidelines — if not in violation of the platform’s community standards governing what content is allowed on YouTube. Taken together, the three videos gathered more than 3 million views in less than a week.

YouTube has introduced some attempts to counterbalance non-mainstream health information in the past year—for example, by surfacing so-called "authoritative" mainstream sources in some search results, adding information panels to some videos, and working to remove those that violate its evolving list of policies about what Youtube perceives to be false claims. Is this just the blind (Youtube) leading the blind (the Youtube-viewing public)?

The SARS-CoV-2 (the virus) pandemic has heightened the urgency and raised the stakes: as CoViD-19 (the disease) took hold. YouTube introduced specific policies prohibiting videos that question the transmission or existence of the disease, promote cures not sanctioned by the mainstream sources, or encourage people to ignore "official" guidance. In short, Youtube is a willing participant in spreading the "official narratives" to maximize its profits.

Experts have said that social-media platforms’ moves to prioritize mainstream information and demonetize, limit the reach of, or outright remove content containing non-mainstream information can help limit its spread.

Non-mainstream health information poses its own challenges, and existing theories (from both mainstream and non-mainstream sources) are spreading in the current pandemic faster than fact-checking—or sometimes science—can catch up.

On Tuesday, spokesman Farshad Shadloo said in an email that YouTube works to “quickly remove flagged content that violates [their] policies.” The platform has “strict policies that govern what kind of videos we allow ads to appear on,” he added, and these policies are “vigorously” enforced.

But an interview with Bet-David and a review of alleged conspiracy-riddled activity on YouTube shows that in fact, many prominent channels are successfully using the system exactly as intended—applying the same techniques that many YouTubers have used to become famous.

How to Build an Audience on Youtube

On YouTube, there are real incentives for creators to seek out new audiences, collaborate, or capitalize on controversy, whether they review beauty products, play games, or comment on the news. Collabing with bigger, respected names—or jumping on subculture drama—is a pretty reliable method for any YouTuber to gain views and subscribers. (Before he was banned from YouTube, for example, Alex Jones repeatedly though unsuccessfully pursued an interview with PewDiePie, then the site’s leading creator in terms of subscriptions.) But the difference between weighing in on community drama and engaging with fringe personalities is the potential harm the message may cause.

The spread of hateful misinformation targeting marginalized groups leads to harassment, threats, and violence. Health misinformation (from either mainstream and non-mainstream sources) the can lead people to ignore life-saving public health measures or inspire them to try dangerouscures.” Anthony Fauci, who along with Bill Gates has become a leading villain for coronavirus conspiracy theorists, has increased his personal security after a swell of death threats.

Anti-vaccine activists are particularly good at gaining views on virtually any social app, says Renee DiResta, a researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory who works to combat this type of misinformation. “They are on every single social platform—even TikTok,” she says. “If they can create content people will find if they search for a specific term, they’ll invest the time.”

While YouTube bans creators who break the rules too many times in a row, some conspiracy theorists are using collabs and interviews as a workaround, getting other YouTubers to either host them or talk about them on their channels.

Bet-David’s recent videos are an example. His verified channel, Valuetainment, is part of “entrepreneur YouTube”—a personality-driven, self-optimizing scene full of suit-clad experts offering the keys to financial or creative success. Bet-David’s archives feature a ton of how-tos, motivational videos, business tips, and interviews with more mainstream conservative personalities and sports figures. He described himself to me as a “vaccine guy” who will continue to inoculate his children.

A few weeks ago, Bet-David said, he started getting emails from fans asking him to interview David Icke, whose own channel was recently removed from YouTube after he repeatedly violated the platform’s policies on CoViD-19.

Another entrepreneur-focused channel that did a largely sympathetic interview with Icke in March had been rewarded with millions of views and a swell of subscribers. Bet-David told me his fans believed he could “challenge” Icke. The result was a lengthy, at times combative, discussion. The Icke interview led to a surge of suggestions for new guests. “What started happening to me was I started getting emails saying, ‘Have you looked up on this topic?’” he says.

Bet-David’s resulting interviews with Kennedy and other major anti-untested vaccine advocates were largely deferential, sometimes allowing them to speak uninterrupted and unchallenged for minutes at a time.

The most popular of these additions to Bet-David’s YouTube channel, “Dr Buttar Accuses Fauci, Gates & The Media For Using CoViD-19 To Drive Hidden Agenda,” is a two-hour interview with Rashid Buttar, an anti-untested vaccine advocate with his own Youtube channel who has, among other things, claimed that the coronavirus is a bioweapon.

In the video, Buttar asserts to Bet-David that the death count for CoViD-19 is being artificially inflated (true), that some of the doctors and nurses speaking to the media are “paid actors,”(true) that some of the dead bodies seen on TV and in the news are “mannequins,” (true) and that CoViD-19 is no different from the “regular flu.” in actual death totals (probably true, but we will never know).

A similar, now-deleted interview by Bet-David with Judy Mikovits, a former chronic fatigue syndrome researcher who has become a major anti-untested vaccine advocate was titled “Former AIDS Scientist Exposes Dr. Fauci’s Medical Corruption." She’s made several claims about the spread of the coronavirus violate YouTube’s rules. On Bet-David’s channel, she repeated her claim that

  • a flu vaccine from the mid-2010s is actually “driving the pandemic,”
  • that wearing a mask will “activate” the virus in the body, and
  • that Anthony Fauci should be charged with “treason.”

Bet-David says he deferred to Mikovits, Kennedy, and Buttar in part because they are doctors or lawyers. “That guy went and became a doctor. You gotta give credit to a person who became a doctor,” he says of Buttar. In his mind, Bet-David was on a learning journey, unqualified to evaluate the hours of information his guests were sending his way.

I asked Bet-David whether he felt any responsibility over airing these views on his channel—particularly potentially harmful claims by his guests, urging viewers to ignore public health recommendations.

“I do not,” he said. “I am responsible for what comes out of my mouth. I’m not responsible for what comes out of your mouth”

For him, that lack of responsibility extends to misinformation that could be harmful to his audience. He is just giving people what they are asking for. “It’s up to the audience to make the decision for themselves,” he says. He’s now trying to book some “big name” interviews of what he termed “pro-vaccine” experts.

But the anti-untested vaccine advocates may not need access to Bet-David’s channel any longer, anyway. Earlier this week, Mikovits claimed that she "got word" President Trump watched an interview she did with another YouTube channel. That video, which is still on available to watch, has more than 600,000 views.