YouTube vs Owen Benjamin

If you are of a certain political persuasion, you have a new object for virtue-signaling: stand-up comedian Owen Benjamin.

The management at YouTube certainly thinks so. Benjamin reports that the Internet’s megalithic  video-sharing site has demonetized his channel.

I should explain what demonetization means. For about a decade now, YouTube has struck a deal with its creators: They work hard to bring traffic to the site. (YouTube creates virtually none of its own content; it all comes from independent creators.) In exchange, YouTube gives creators a percentage of advertising revenues (which are the basis of YouTube’s business model.)

When YouTube demonetizes a creator, they arbitrarily and unilaterally cut off the ad revenues that a creator has earned, based on their views and their traffic. This is an attempt to drive the creator off the site, and is often followed by an outright shuttering of the creator’s channel.

Since YouTube is a private corporation (owned by Google) and not the government, this is technically not “censorship”. But it does represent an unethical business practice, especially when it’s done for purely ideological reasons, as was the case with Benjamin.

YouTube’s management was perfectly fine with provocative speech ten years ago, when all the provocative speech was coming from leftwing commentators and radical Muslim agitators. (Islamic channels have existed on YouTube since at least 2008.)

Then about five years ago, conservative and right-leaning creators discovered the medium. YouTube’s management suddenly decided that their site needed an array of (arbitrarily enforced) speech codes.

Owen Benjamin has aroused the ire of the anti-free speech left because his jokes include topics such as sexual preference (gasp!), sexual identity (bigger gasp!) and race (heart-stopping, sputtering gasp!)

During my 1980s and early 1990s youth, a diverse group of stand-up comedians (Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Andrew Dice Clay, and others) frequently joked about race, sexuality, gender roles, and other “taboo” topics.

Humor and satire exist partly to push people’s buttons, partly to provide a safety valve for expressing common frustrations that can’t be discussed in the workplace or at the dinner party. Sometimes the humor resonates, and sometimes the jokes fall flat.

And sometimes the comedian goes too far. Leftwing comedienne Samantha Bee went too far when she referred to Ivanka Trump as a “feckless c*nt”.

But that is part of the process. What is funny–and what isn’t–should be left to the marketplace, not to government bureaucrats or corporate censors.

I’ve watched a few of Owen Benjamin’s videos. Like most comedians, he has a “schtick”, and a little bit of it goes a long way. Whereas Andrew Dice Clay, circa 1990, could leave me in stitches, Owen Benjamin mostly causes me to shrug and say, “whatever”. But then again, at the age of fifty, I’m not part of Benjamin’s target audience. (Humor tends to vary greatly with each decade and each generation.)

Nevertheless, I didn’t see anything on Owen Benjamin’s YouTube channel that suggests he is an existential threat to anyone. He’s a niche comedian with a modestly successful YouTube channel. Nothing more.

Or Benjamin was a niche comedian with a modestly successful YouTube channel. Then someone in YouTube’s management decided that they–and not the market–would decide what is funny, and what isn’t.