Well, that was fast. Just days ago, the U.K.-based Sunday Times and Channel 4 News dropped a collaborative report featuring several women who are accusing Russell Brand, the celebrity actor-turned-independent political media mogul, of various forms of sexual misconduct.
Now, YouTube has announced that his channel is being “demonetized,” a move which will strip Brand’s massively successful channel of its revenue share on advertisements and cut him off from an estimated $1 million-plus in annual revenue. While YouTube has the legal right to remove anyone from its platform, this move is still alarming and misguided. It’s wildly premature to punish someone based on mere accusations alone and inconsistent with YouTube’s broader application of its policies.
To be clear, the accusations against Brand are very serious. Four women are accusing him of sexual assault, and while he denies the criminal allegations, it’s not just a he-said-she-said situation. There is some corroboration of the allegations, such as the fact that records show one of the women accusing Brand went to a rape crisis center on the day of the alleged incident. (This makes the possibility that she is making it up less likely, as she would’ve had to plan the hoax many years in advance.) So, too, text messages show Brand acknowledging some degree of misbehavior.
That said, the accusations are still anonymous. They haven’t been proven in any court of law, and Brand, like anyone, should be presumed innocent. He hasn’t even had the opportunity to provide counterevidence, which he says he has, or clear his name.
Yet YouTube is assuming his guilt and overnight destroying his business. Where is the justice in that?
It sets a disturbing precedent, too, that merely accusing a massive YouTube personality of a crime, even from behind the veil of anonymity, is enough to see his or her livelihood eliminated (at least, in some cases). Even if every woman accusing Brand is 100% telling the truth, which is absolutely possible, this premature move still sets a precedent that will encourage the future weaponization of accusations that may be less credible or even outright made up.
There’s also an inconsistency in YouTube’s decision here that’s quite revealing. It is reportedly demonetizing Brand’s channel under its “creator responsibility policy,” which states , “If we see that a creator’s on and/or off-platform behavior harms our users, community, employees or ecosystem, we may take action to protect the community.”
But other channels operated by convicted criminals, not just accused but convicted in a court of law, are allowed to be monetized. For example, the rapper Cassidy killed someone and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault, yet his YouTube artist channel is monetized. And while she hasn’t been convicted of a crime, rapper Cardi B is on the record admitting to having “drugged and robbed” men. Yet guess whose YouTube channel is monetized? In yet another example, YouTuber Sam Pepper was accused of rape but not charged, yet his channel is monetized.
You get the idea. All across YouTube, there are many channels operated by individuals with either confirmed criminal histories or well-corroborated accusations of misconduct against them that are nonetheless allowed full monetization rights. Yet in Brand’s case, the website has instantly cracked the whip and stripped him of his livelihood.
Brand’s fans have argued that this entire thing is a ploy from the “deep state” or “matrix” to take down the mega influencer because of his outlier views on issues such as COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and so on. This is unpersuasive unless the deep state has developed a time machine and can now go back in time to plant corroborating evidence dating back decades.
But Brand’s supporters clearly have a credible case that he’s being treated differently than other similarly situated people in a way that could definitely be ideologically motivated. And, if so, that’s wrong: Either abusing people disqualifies one from a career as a YouTuber or it doesn’t.
If Russell Brand really did the things he is accused of, then he deserves much more than YouTube demonetization; he belongs in jail. But we should all want to live in a society where more than mere anonymous accusations are required to destroy someone’s livelihood.