The airgun industry stands together against a YouTube campaign of video takedowns and terminations – but there are still many unanswered questions.
Airgun manufacturers, suppliers and content creators have fought off an apparent purge of their videos from YouTube, which saw many airgun-related channels receive unexpected ‘strikes’ to their account or even be taken down altogether.
High-profile consumer channels including the Airgun Gear Show, American Airgunner and Andy’s Airgun Review, as well as manufacturers and retailers including Daystate, Umarex, Hatsan, PyramydAir and Airguns of Arizona, fell victim to the wide-ranging campaign of ‘content strikes’, three of which lead to automatic suspension of the user’s channel.
With the first strikes reported around 21 February, unfortunate YouTubers were left in the dark until 26 February, when YouTube reversed most of the content strikes and restored the missing channels.
Affected content creators can now publish and monetise videos once again, and the situation is effectively back to normal. However, no one knows what made YouTube suddenly flag up certain videos as unsuitable, given that some of them had been online for years. Nor does anyone know why airguns were singled out and, for example, rifle and shotgun-based content was unaffected.
Mat Manning, presenter of The Airgun Show, said that even for channels who escaped action, it was a worrying episode: “Though The Airgun Show wasn’t caught up in the YouTube cull, it was dismaying to see the channels of other content creators get taken down. The strange thing was, there was no clear reason why certain channels were disappearing, and who might be next. And YouTube appeared very faceless – nobody knew where to go to get a straight answer, to know what to do to fix things.
“However, we’re pleased to see that the problem appears to have been remedied. Now we will seek assurance from contacts within YouTube that the episode won’t be repeated. This isn’t just an amateur market anymore – content creators now spend an awful lot of time and money on their videos, and the treatment they receive from YouTube should reflect that.”
There is little to link the channels caught up in the cull except their airgun subject matter. Some are hunting-based and others have more of a technical slant to their content. Though many major channels were hit, small channels with as few as 1,000 subscribers also got taken down, while other big names were left untouched entirely. Also, though most of the affected video-makers are American, Giles Barry’s UK-based channel Airgun Gear was taken down. “I went to hell and back for seven days,” Giles said. “I’m fortunate in that this isn’t my main job, and the videos don’t pay all of my bills. But for other people out there, they do.”
Speculating as to the reasons behind YouTube’s move, he said: “It seems that a group of moderators got carried away. The content flags seem to be historic – I was getting them on older titles from five years ago.
“All the strikes on my videos were for ‘inciting violence’ – but there’s nothing in them that’s inflammatory. I’ve been posting the same content and tagging it in the same way for five years. I had a strike on an old video of an interview with the boss of Hatsan on their IWA stand in 2016. There wasn’t anything in there that could have been against guidelines.
“Everything seems quite stable now and everything’s been re-monetised. But it’s the level of support from YouTube that is frustrating. You get 1,000 characters in a web form to appeal, and when that happens it is presented to a moderator again. If it’s the same moderator who issued the strike in the first place, what chance do you have?”
Giles revealed that companies from across the airgun trade had united to pledge their support for content creators and to discuss the best means of proceeding as an industry. “Most of the industry lobbied YouTube directly, from small retailers to people who own two or three big companies,” he said. “Everyone came together, even companies that would normally be competitors, to say they wanted to keep this going. That was pleasing on behalf of all creators – people clearly see the value of video, and want to protect it.”
Daystate is one such company, and sales manager Terence Logan said Daystate’s channel was down for several days before being restored. “We got strikes against a video on the technology side of the gun, explaining the Harper slingshot system,” he said. “It was completely innocuous. The strike didn’t make any sense.”
Terence said that after its channel came back online, Daystate voluntarily made its videos private while it waited “to see how the land lies” with the airgun industry’s future use of YouTube. “There is a conversation regarding what we can do to create a dedicated platform for the airgun community,” he said. “But on YouTube, the viewers you get aren’t always dyed-in-the-wool airgunners. It’s rifle shooters, other shooters, country dwellers, people stumbling across it… You’re going to miss out on that crossover market if you create something dedicated.”
Charlie Jacoby of Fieldsports Channel urged the industry to stick with YouTube as a whole. “Working in YouTube is a bit like working in a medieval castle,” he said. “You never quite know when they’re going to run you through with spears or pour boiling oil on you – but it’s still warmer than working outside.
“The airgun takedowns were entirely accidental, I think. It’s hard to follow, but somewhere in the dark recesses of the algorithms, videos were flagged up for community guidelines strikes. Then, people hired by YouTube review what the algorithm says, and in a febrile anti-gun atmosphere it’s easy for people to take down airgun videos.
“I deeply regret the episode, but being ‘inside the castle’ is still preferable. I think setting up an alternative to YouTube is a mistake. What we’re looking for is a really wide audience, and that’s what YouTube provides.
“What channels should do, however, is get all the films that are really dear to them on to a hard drive. If everything goes wrong, they can be up and running on a different media aggregator in a few hours. But I’d caution against going off and setting up your own media server, because nobody will ever watch you.”