Despite cracking down on QAnon, YouTube continues to profit from content supporting the conspiracy theory
Update (4/8/21): Seven of the channels mentioned in this article have since been taken down, with at least some being explicitly “terminated for violating YouTube's Community Guidelines.” Additionally, the videos of Edge on Wonder on its co-host’s channel have been removed. Truth and Art TV, whose ban-evasion channels were some of those taken down, has said on its site in response to the removals, “In the meantime make sure you are subscribed to my personal” channel on YouTube, adding that it would be launching another ban-evasion channel “shortly.”
Update (4/12/21): Eleven more channels mentioned in this article have since been taken down, with at least some being explicitly removed for violating YouTube’s rules. Scott McKay, one of the QAnon supporters whose channels were newly removed, has announced that he’s created yet another ban evasion channel in response to the takedowns.
Despite YouTube’s promise to crack down on QAnon last October, the platform is still hosting shows supporting the conspiracy theory -- some of which even run ads, meaning both the channel and YouTube make money from them. Media Matters has identified at least 14 examples of QAnon ban-evasion channels, as well as numerous foreign-language YouTube channels that have seemingly rebranded to spread QAnon shows.
QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory that has been tied to multiple violent incidents, including the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and several government agencies have been prompted to issue internal warnings of domestic terrorism about it. Last October, YouTube announced that it was “removing more conspiracy theory content used to justify real-world violence” and would prohibit content that “threatens or harrasses someone by suggesting they are complicit in one of these harmful conspiracies, such as QAnon or Pizzagate.” As part of the platform’s crackdown, it banned numerous QAnon channels.
However, a review by Media Matters has found that ban-evasion channels have proliferated on the platform with little consequence, as have several QAnon influencers’ channels. In some cases, these ban-evasion channels appear to still be controlled by banned QAnon influencers directly.
Some QAnon influencers still have YouTube channels
There are at least three channels from prominent QAnon influencers that are still active despite YouTube’s crackdown. One such channel, called We The Media, is run by a group of QAnon influencers who were banned from Twitter following the Capitol insurrection. Another channel, The Kate Awakening, is run by a member of We The Media who came to Washington, D.C., to attend the pro-Trump rally that preceded the insurrection. Both channels have thousands of subscribers and thousands of views, and they have used their Telegram channels to promote their YouTube channels. Another member of We The Media who attended the January 6 rally, “Mel Q,” also still has a YouTube channel that she has previously promoted elsewhere.
In each instance, YouTube has either missed these channels in its supposed crackdown or allowed these QAnon influencers to reestablish themselves despite their potential involvement in the events of January 6.
Some QAnon influencers have evaded bans via other YouTube channels
Additionally, multiple QAnon shows or influencers that YouTube previously banned have still appeared on the platform. Media Matters has identified at least a dozen ban-evasion channels being used to promote QAnon influencers and their shows -- some of which are clearly controlled by the supposedly banned influencers themselves.
For example, soon after the QAnon show Edge Of Wonder was banned, one of its hosts began uploading the show onto his own channel, and the show featured other banned QAnon influencers as “special guests.” YouTube has also run an ad for the Edge of Wonder website that appears when users search for the show on the platform. This means YouTube is making money off of an ad for a QAnon show it had banned.
Another banned QAnon show, Truth and Art TV, has continued to upload videos to a new YouTube channel created right after its first one was allegedly banned. Although the show has claimed that the channel received only a temporary suspension for spreading coronavirus misinformation, YouTube’s failure to remove the new channel seems inconsistent with its own rules given that the channel both promotes QAnon misinformation and seemingly violates the platform’s ban-evasion rules. Truth and Art TV also appears to have since set up and used a second and third new YouTube channel to upload the show, promoting them all on its website.
Another QAnon-supporting influencer who had a channel banned from YouTube, Scott McKay, currently uploads his show to at least three YouTube channels — Patriot Streetfighter 6, Patriot Streetfighter 7, and Patriot Streetfighter 8 — all of which he has promoted on Twitter.
Another banned channel, TruReporting, has since been using a channel called T.R.U. Reporting 2.0 to post the show, and has also promoted the channel on its other social media accounts.
Although it is unclear if the show hosts themselves are involved in their creation, several other channels have popped up that appear designed to upload banned QAnon shows. They are X22 Report, RedPill78 (another channel affiliated with We The Media which also attended the insurrection), And We Know, Praying Medic, inTheMatrixxx, and Amazing Polly, run by a QAnon influencer who instigated the false Wayfair trafficking conspiracy theory. And QAnon channels not affiliated with any influencers in the community can also still be found on the platform.
Foreign YouTube channels have rebranded to host QAnon shows -- and some have ads
In addition to these explicit QAnon channels, Media Matters also identified more than a dozen foreign-language channels that appear to have recently transitioned from posting nonpolitical content to now sharing QAnon shows. Some of these channels have even represented themselves as being QAnon shows or figures such as X22 Report, Patriot Streetfighter, Charlie Ward, and BardsFM, which have received at least tens of thousands of combined views. Many of the uploads of the QAnon shows on these channels have ads, and some of the channels are even verified by YouTube. (Foreign-language channels switching from unrelated topics to spreading American-focused political misinformation have become a recurring problem for YouTube.)
YouTube has also continued to allow QAnon-related narratives like a conspiracy theory about a supposed second inauguration of former President Donald Trump to spread, and the struggle to crack down on QAnon channels is reminiscent of the site's failure to enforce its ban on the far-right conspiracy theory outlet Infowars in 2018. The QAnon ban challenges also highlight the platform’s ongoing monetization crisis of repeatedly allowing channels to run ads on videos that violate the platform’s own rules -- and running ads on videos pushing misinformation in general.