Thousands of videos of loyalist marching bands have been removed from YouTube in what has been described as “unwarranted censorship” on “expressions of British culture”.
Around 10 accounts were removed on Friday from the video streaming website, a subsidiary of Google, resulting in the loss of thousands of videos that had been watched, collectively, millions of times.
All the main unionist parties – the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP – have hit out at the action.
The News Letter has spoken to a number of account holders who say their entire catalogue of videos has been removed from the site with little explanation.
The owner of the ‘On the March’ account said he personally edited his videos to ensure they did not contain any “unseemly” content or “foul language”.
The account holder, who confirmed his identity to the News Letter but asked not to be named for fear that it might interfere with his employment, said: “If there had been anything on there that was a problem and I was asked to take them off, I would have taken them off, knowing what was at stake.”
He added: “They removed everything.
“My own videos, I edited before I put them on YouTube. I made sure there was nothing that was unseemly, no foul language. I spent thousands and thousands of hours in front of the computer over years.
“The main reason I do this is to promote the positive image of loyal orders and marching bands throughout Northern Ireland – the good in it, the charity elements of it, the sights and sounds, the colour, the pageantry. Basically it is about promoting our history and our culture.”
The News Letter also spoke to the owner of another of the deleted accounts, which used the AdiProd256 pseudonym, who said his videos were also removed on Friday evening.
Both men said thousands of videos, dating back years, have now been lost.
In emails sent to both account holders, which have been seen by the News Letter, YouTube stated that “upon review” certain videos had violated its “community guidelines”.
In the case of the now-deleted AdiProd256 account, one of the videos determined to be in violation showed the Ballykeel Loyal Sons of Ulster band, while another showed the Robert Graham Memorial flute band.
While attempting to access one of the deleted accounts, users are greeted with the message: “This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”
In one of the emails, YouTube informed the account holder: “We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express their points of view, even if unpopular.
“However, YouTube doesn’t allow hate speech.
“Sometimes there’s a fine line between what is and isn’t considered hate speech. If you’re not sure whether or not your content crosses the line, we ask that you don’t post it.”
The AdiProd 256 account holder told the News Letter he was unaware of any hate speech in any of the videos.
The On the March account holder said he has been uploading his videos for six years in order to to “promote unionist culture”.
He said: “To be honest, for me it’s a hobby. I don’t do it for money or gain.
“When I got home and seen that on Friday night I just wanted to cry. I was gutted, totally gutted.”
He believes the fact that so many similar accounts were deleted at around the same time demonstrates a degree of targeting.
“The fact that 10 accounts went down on one night means we have been targeted by somebody sitting somewhere,” he said.
“Whether it’s malicious, political, or somebody with a grudge, I feel let down by YouTube as well.”
He added: “A lot of the things I record aren’t just band parades and loyal order parades. I had videos from the Milk Cup, the Belfast Tattoo, church parades, and it’s all gone.”
Before the account was deleted, he received an email from YouTube warning he had received two “strikes” against him.
In the email YouTube wrote: “It’s important to understand that if you receive three strikes within three months, we’ll terminate your account, rendering it permanently inaccessible.”
Quincy Dougan is heavily involved in the band scene in Northern Ireland and is the marching band correspondent for the Orange Standard.
He said: “One of the accounts recently surpassed 10 million views in total. This is not dozens, or hundreds, this is thousands of videos.
“This (removal) has been organised. It is part of a campaign. YouTube has either taken these down in-house, or they have responded to pressure. I have no doubt whatsoever that it has been a response to pressure.”
He added: “We are talking, effectively, about an entire culture that has been disappeared from the internet in one swoop.
“Without getting too emotive about it, this is almost a form of cultural wipeout.”
The News Letter has contacted Google’s press office using the email address listed on YouTube about the concerns raised by the removal of the videos, but had received only an automated reply at the time of writing.