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How YouTube rules are used to silence human rights activists

For more than a week now, a corner of YouTube visited by Kazakh dissidents and close human rights observers in Xinjiang has only been available occasionally.

June 15, YouTube channel Atayurt Kazakhstan Human Rights magazine has darkened, its video feed being replaced by a vague statement that the channel has been “discontinued due to a violation of YouTube’s Community Guidelines”. A few days later, the channel was returned without a public explanation. Then, a few days later, the channel’s 12 earliest videos disappeared from its public feed.

Atayurt collects and publishes video testimonies of family members of people imprisoned in Chinese international camps in Xinjiang. To ensure the veracity of these video statements, each public testimony shows proof of the identity of the person testifying and their detained relatives. It also underscores the integrity of the organization, says Serikzhan Bilash, a prominent Kazakh activist and channel owner.

Atayurt collected thousands of video testimonies from family members of Turkish Muslims who went missing in Xinjiang. Witnesses show their ID to prove that they are real people.

Accuracy is particularly important not only because Xinjiang lacks information, but also because testimonies often face criticism from Chinese Communist Party supporters – who, Bilash says, are looking for any excuse to deny what the United Nations has called “serious human rights violations“In the province.

After being published by Atajurt, the information in the videos is then used by other organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Xinjiang Victims Database, which documents where detentions occur, the communities most affected and the missing individuals. A spokesman for the Xinjiang victims database told the MIT Technology Review that their project was linked to videos from Ataiurt “thousands of times”.

For years, these videos – dating back to 2018 – have not been a problem, at least not from a YouTube perspective. That changed last week.

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“Thorough review”

“We have strict policies which prohibit harassment on YouTube, including doxing, ”a YouTube spokesman told the MIT Technology Review on Friday, adding later,“ We ​​welcome responsible efforts to document important human rights cases around the world. We have too policy which do not allow channel publishing Data that can personally identify you to prevent harassment. ”

YouTube has forcibly converted some videos, like this one, to private by YouTube after reporting them for violating its “violent criminal organizations” policy.

They probably meant Atajurt’s display of personal documents, which he uses to confirm the truth of people’s testimonies.

Yet, soon after MIT Technology Review sent YouTube a list of questions on June 15 removal and broader content moderation policies, YouTube reversed its stance. “After a thorough review of the context of the video,” the channel renewed, “with a warning,” a company representative wrote in an email. “We … work closely with this organization to be able to remove personally identifiable information from their videos in order to get it back.”

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