EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on Friday, Aug 27 at 11:15 PST to include comment from YouTube.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Errol Webber shot the Oscar-winning “Music By Prudence,” about a disabled singer in Zimbabwe. For his latest project, he took on politics a little closer to home.
“100 Reasons to Recall Gavin Newsom” covers various things that have gone wrong from Webber‘s perspective during Newsom‘s three years in office.
It’s a quick funny clip job, narrated by Webber and using mostly screenshots from totally reputable news sources, such as the AP, CNN, and California Globe.
By today’s standards—by any standards of political discourse, actually—it’s not particularly harsh. It’s well-sourced and obviously topical. So why did YouTube, the near-monopoly video sharing site owned by near-monopoly Google, put this video behind not just one warning screen but two?
“I can tell you what they sent me in the email,” Webber told the Globe in an extensive interview on Monday night. “On Friday, they wrote an email that read, ‘Our team has reviewed your content and we don’t think it’s in line with our violent or graphic content policy. As a result, we’ve age-restricted the following content: 100 Reasons To Recall Gavin Newsom.'”
Would-be viewers of the video now have to click through one screen that warns “This video may be inappropriate for some users.” After agreeing to move on despite that stark caution, one is greeted with a second black screen that warns the content has been “identified by the YouTube community” as “inappropriate or offensive.”
Webber was shocked.
“I’m like the only thing that could fall under that category of like violence or sensational was the section where I was talking about Gavin Newsom signing into law AB392, which I’m sure you know redefines what a police officer should use for the judgement of what would warrant use of deadly force.”
This is hardly the kind of obscure, policy-based observation—one among literally a hundred — that marginalizes a video on YouTube.
“I made sure that many of the sources for this video were left-wing media, so if the fact checkers on YouTube and Facebook wanted to fact check me and discredit something they would be discrediting their own left-wing media,” said Webber. “I spent 11 days making this video, from writing the scripts to sourcing the material to fact checking it myself, to recording the scripts, to doing the edits, doing the post-production. It’s very intensive work but I knew I needed to make it perfect.”
The work is beginning to pay off.
Even with the restrictions, the video has been viewed nearly 15,000 times since being posted Aug. 14. Webber is not completely new to state politics. In July 2019, Webber made a video called 40 Reasons to Recall Gavin Newsom. He says that it’s racked up “over 500,000 views” and that with a recall election actually a reality it was time to update the concept.
“I spoke with many groups of people. Many of them are concerned parents who are worried about what is being taught to their kids or losing their agency to choose what is best for the health of their children. I spoke with folks who are military who are left destitute on the street outside the VA. I spoke with farmers in the Central Valley from Bakersfield all the way up to the San Joaquin region about their lack of access to water. And I spoke to folks in Sacramento who are worried about the Sacramento River and the homeless who are dumping sewage into the river. We spoke over the past two years about a number of issues like access to good electricity, good sources of electricity, and listened to people talk about the merit of off-shore nuclear and desalination, all of these different things that could be done to improve California. And then I watched what Gavin Newsom does for the state, and just like everything that could be good for this state, it seems he does the opposite.”
Building on the notoriety of the first video, Webber threw his own hat into the ring. In 2020, he campaigned in California’s 37th Congressional District, which is West of Downtown Los Angeles.
According to Cook, that’s a D+37 district and incumbent Karen Bass has regularly racked up Saddam Hussein-like 90% totals since the District assumed its current shape in 2012. Still, Webber made it to the finals by coming in second during the open primary. In November, he was inevitably crushed, but the ever-optimistic Webber pointed out that Republicans make up only 7% of the District’s electorate so his 14% actually doubled his predicted share.
That campaign was an eye-opener for Webber.
“There was one night I was putting up lawn signs. Now, interestingly, I can’t put lawn signs in the ground. I have to put them nine feet up in the air on utility poles, but I would go around with the stepladder so I can hammer these lawn signs nine feet in the air because I needed to keep it out of the reach of ‘children,’ I mean Democrats. So while I was setting up my lawn signs in the middle of Leimert Park at night, which already is dangerous, they see my car with a giant 5-foot American flag draped across the hood of the car. And they are like, ‘Oh you are one of those Trump guys. You better get the fuck out of here.’ I said, ‘What did you say?’ ‘I’m not going to say it twice.’ So they are about to come after me, so I put up my last sign and got out of there. And I’m thinking to myself here I am trying to offer them service, solutions to many problems that they’ve enabled through their voting habits over the past few decades and they want to kill me. And it wasn’t just one time. There was a Trump rally happening in Tujunga, and across the street there were BLM counter-protestors. So me being a candidate for Congress, I’m like, well, I need to talk to those people. So I cross the street to go talk to the BLM counter-protesters and one of these guys, a Black guy about six inches shorter than me comes up to my face and says, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to get the fuck out of here and I’m about to beat you up.’ And I’m thinking to myself, I’m like, ‘Wait, so a Black guy is threatening to beat up another Black guy at a Black Lives Matter counter protest. Please help me make that make sense.”
Where Webber stands on the recall
The Globe asked Webber about his plans for September 14. The chatty filmmaker, born in Jamaica and raised in Baltimore, is not really the type of guy who gives yes or no answers on Question 1 or last name only on Question 2. But Webber’s explanation was so beautifully articulated, it’s worth printing in full.
“I am voting yes on the recall and following the recall effort very closely. I believe that it is important in this election that we make a business decision with our votes. It is important for both candidates and for voters to take a good hard look at the fate of California. We have one shot at getting Gavin Newsom out and replacing him with someone competent and conservative. And if we do not act right we are going to be in a position where we may enable the wrong person to become a governor. I’ve seen in many online forums on Facebook and on Instagram and whatnot people who are saying that they want to vote their conscience, which sounds great but we have another situation going on right now where we have a competent and very well-known Republican running in the recall. His name is Larry Elder and he is so far ahead in the polls that if we are to split the vote in this recall effort we may actually hurt ourselves… Let’s all throw all of our votes into Larry Elder and ensure we secure him getting across the finish line.”
A history of tech censorship
This is hardly the first time that the tech giants have censored viewpoints critical of Democratic politicians. Three weeks before the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post produced a bombshell when it unearthed the computer hard drive of soon-to-be First Son Hunter Biden. Not only did the hard drive contain much embarrassing information that was of at least arguable news value (and certainly would have been weaponized were it about Donald Trump, Jr). But it also contained information that appeared to link Joe Biden himself to questionable business ventures.
This bombshell revelation was newsworthy by any standard. It was literally front-page news in the nation’s oldest newspaper. And yet Twitter unilaterally made the decision to censor and disallow sharing of the story across its platform, and even froze the Post’s own Twitter account for two weeks.
At the exact same time, Twitter allowed Politico and others to tweet stories falsely characterizing the Post’s scoop as Russian disinformation. It was crazy. An important true story was censored while false speculation was permitted. Congress promised action, and in March dragged in Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to explain how such a travesty could be allowed to affect an American election. He apologized. That’s it. Nothing else happened.
Now we’ve got an award-winning filmmaker being hidden behind not one but two “Are you sure you want to view this dangerous content” blockers. California Globe reached out to YouTube for comment on why the relatively mainstream opinions of an Oscar winning black filmmaker have suddenly found themselves behind two efforts to block viewers.
“Sometimes videos that do not violate our Community Guidelines may not be appropriate for everyone on YouTube,” replied a spokeswoman for YouTube. “Our policies apply equally to everyone and in this case, we age-restricted the video in accordance with our violent or graphic content policies.”
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