TTP Report: YouTube Hosts Hundreds of Militia Videos, Fueling Extremist Movement, Ukraine Disinformation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 13, 2022
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report revealing that Google-owned YouTube is hosting hundreds of militia videos seeking to recruit new militia members, provide weapons and tactical training, and spread anti-government messages. Of the 435 militia videos identified in the report, 85 were uploaded to the platform after the Jan. 6 insurrection. Others, uploaded in recent months, actively spread disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. TTP also found examples of YouTube directly profiting from these videos through advertising and through its Super Chat feature.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “While much of the attention surrounding online radicalization has justifiably focused on Facebook, YouTube is also playing a dangerous role in providing a home for extremist content. The videos we identified go far beyond aggrieved speech, and actively seek to recruit viewers into a radical mindset centered around political violence.”
TTP identified numerous videos associated with known extremist groups. For example, YouTube hosted a recruitment video for the Irregulars of Ohio Reserve Militia (IORM), which the Southern Poverty Law Center identified in its list of extreme anti-government groups in 2020. The video, which had more than 3,000 views, featured dramatic music playing over images of men training with weapons in forested areas. The video linked to an inactive Facebook page, which may have been removed as part of Facebook’s crackdown on militia groups.
Other videos openly promote the Three Percenters, the anti-government extremist movement. The Three Percenters made national headlines after a number of self-identified members were charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot—meaning the movement should be well known to YouTube. Still, as TTP observed, the platform allowed multiple videos to openly flaunt their Three Percenter connections, with no apparent intervention.
TTP also found examples of militia-affiliated channels on YouTube spreading disinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including conspiracies involving the Azov Battalion, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and so-called crisis actors.
Another troubling finding: YouTube served ads on a number of these militia videos, meaning both the platform and the creators are profiting from this content. The ads were for brands like vacation rental site VRBO, makeup brand Charlotte Tillbury, Crypto.com—and even Google’s own Google Fi. It is likely many of these companies have no idea their ads are being served alongside extremist content. TTP even found one instance of an interview of a Three Percenter that received donations through YouTube’s Super Chat—a feature that allows viewers to pay to pin a comment in a livestream.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “These findings raise serious questions about YouTube’s ability or desire to keep its platform free from extremist ideology and debunked disinformation. Lawmakers should be seriously concerned with this lack of enforcement and demand answers from the platform about why it is continuing to put profits before people.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.