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Dear Shelly,

The Russian-funded and directed propaganda outlets Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik are two of the major avenues through which the Putin regime spreads disinformation to justify its devastating invasion of the Ukraine. The channels are notorious for also distributing favorable content about white supremacist groups, allowing them to recruit and spread their messages. The result is real world harm and threats to democracies everywhere. 

After we applied pressure, YouTube has cut ties with both outlets. 

Over the past few weeks, we worked with our international and domestic partners on this effort. Here’s how it went down: Days after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, we connected with our international partners, and together with the Polish, Never Again Association, we issued a statement demanding Tech companies remove Russian propaganda outlets. 

In this case, YouTube was particularly problematic because RT reached billions of people across the globe through the platform. Even worse, YouTube was allowing RT to be monetized and to buy ads on the platform declaring it was “the most watched news outlet on YouTube,” with more than “10 billion views.”

We then, together with  Change the Terms — a coalition made up of nearly 60 U.S.-based advocacy organizations working to reduce online harms — wrote a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, asking her to remove Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik “in the U.S. and across the globe in all languages, as they have in the European Union” or “continue to be complicit in this war by allowing for the spread of dangerous information.”

Shortly after we sent the letter, YouTube announced they’d cut ties immediately and globally. We know tech companies make promises all the time, but fall short on implementation. Our next step is to monitor and make sure that YouTube does as promised and blocks these channels for good. 

The invasion of and war in Ukraine has rightfully put the role of tech companies in the spotlight, but the work to ensure tech companies protect their users and support democracies goes way beyond the tragic events in Ukraine. While YouTube did the right thing by issuing a global ban on those outlets, this is but a small step in our global efforts to ensure that tech companies stop allowing for the spread of hate and disinformation on their platforms. 

Our work is far from over, and we’re in it for the long game. Thanks for your support and engagement. It takes all of us.

Sincerely,
Wendy Via and Heidi Beirich
Co-founders, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism
P.S. Do you want to learn more about online hate and how to combat it?  Join us on March 23 for a discussion on the current technology landscape and how to mitigate the harms. Register here.
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