Berlin (CNSNews.com) – The German government has denied claims by Russia that it engaged in coordinated “information aggression” with YouTube to block Russian state-broadcaster RT’s German-language news channels.
“It is a decision by YouTube, based on rules created by YouTube,” government spokesperson Steffen Seibert told reporters. “It is not a measure [that was taken by] the German government or other official organizations."
Seibert said anyone accusing the German government of having anything to do with the decision “is tinkering a conspiracy theory.”
YouTube on Tuesday deleted RT's German-language channels, saying they had breached its COVID-19 misinformation policy.
Russia’s foreign ministry hit back the following day.
“YouTube, a video hosting service, has committed an act of unprecedented information aggression against RT media holding’s German-language projects with the obvious tacit consent of Germany, if not at its insistence,” it said in a statement.
The ministry said the aim of the move was “to silence information sources that do not fit into what the German officials view as a comfortable media landscape.”
The Russian government would draft and adopt “retaliatory measures” against both YouTube and “the German media.”
RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan called for retaliatory action against German media outlets in Russia, including a ban on Deutsche Welle and closure of German broadcasters ARD and ZDF.
Vasily Piskarev, the head of a State Duma commission investigating foreign interference in Russia’s internal affairs, said the government has grounds to act against German media.
“The commission believes that Russia has every reason to take measures to respond,” the TASS state news agency quoted him as saying. “The Russian foreign ministry and regulators have all the instruments necessary to do that.”
Reacting to the talk of retaliation, Seibert said there was “no justification whatsoever” for such measures, and anyone calling for them “does not show a good relationship with freedom of the press.”
YouTube, which is owned by Google, released a statement on Wednesday reaffirming its policy, saying it would block all content containing misinformation on the substances in vaccines or “content that falsely alleges that approved vaccines are dangerous and cause chronic health effects.”
In response to queries, a YouTube spokesperson said the German RT channel (RT DE) had been warned about its content, and was only deleted after trying to circumvent the policy by using a second channel.
“RT DE was issued a strike for uploading content that violated our COVID misinformation policy. This resulted in a suspension of their posting privileges,” the spokesperson said. “During this suspension, they tried to circumvent the enforcement by using another channel and as a result both channels were terminated for breaking YouTube terms of service.”
The spokesperson did not respond to a query about why only the German-language channels were blocked.
Dennis-Kenji Kipker, a professor in IT Security Law at the City University of Applied Sciences in Bremen, said the incident showed once again that the issue of political disinformation was becoming increasingly relevant in Europe, even beyond elections.
“RT is not only targeted by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, but due to its orientation it is also known for spreading disinformation and promoting conspiracy theories,” he said.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) is a federal domestic intelligence agency.
Last year, the Interior Ministry announced that the BfV and the Federal Criminal Police Office were monitoring RT Germany, saying that keeping an eye out for the spread of false information was relevant to public safety and order.
“To the extent that YouTube’s actions are of course understandable against this background, they also reveal a problem with media regulation through big tech, in that transnational political conflicts can be conjured up in a field of action largely outside regular state power,” Kipker said.
“The legal regulation of network platforms has not yet achieved a consistently satisfactory result.”
The spillover of commercial media regulation into the political realm looks likely to continue; the E.U. is discussing a bloc-wide regulation known as the Digital Services Act, to respond to harmful content on the Internet.
The DSA will begin to place more direct responsibility on content platformers and providers, with potentially harsh penalties for defaulters.
Kip Casto, a government affairs and information warfare expert and senior instructor on contract at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., said the ban could simply push Russia to other mediums.
“YouTube’s response is understandable considering RT's history of mis and disinformation,” he said, “but banning them will likely push them onto another platform, thus further exacerbating the information echo chamber."