After Karl Kasarda’s YouTube channel, InRange TV, was wiped without warning in early 2018, the firearm enthusiast said he had little option but to turn to posting clips and reviews on a platform of a different kind: PornHub.
“The issue of oligarchical control over the Internet and all the impact over the ability to use it for free speech is going to only get worse,” Kasarda told Fox News, alluding to the “big five” — YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“It is unclear what the rules are,” he added. “Specifically, with YouTube, they pretty much enforce whatever they feel based on their bias of the day. Regardless of your personal belief, firearms and their accessories are legal in the United States. So why are we seeing continuing restrictions and challenges towards content about something demonstrably legal yet not against that which is clearly illegal?”
Indeed, YouTube typically banishes content in which firearms and accessories are legally sold, both directly and through other websites. The fresh wave of prohibitions came just months after YouTube disappeared clips that provided strategy advice to fellow gun enthusiasts, such as how to make the weapons fire more rapidly, in the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas mass murder that reinvigorated the gun control debate.
“Content intended to sell firearms, instruct viewers on how to make firearms, ammunition, and certain accessories, or instruct viewers on how to install those accessories is not allowed on YouTube,” reads the company policy. “YouTube shouldn’t be used as a platform to sell firearms or accessories noted below. YouTube also doesn’t allow live streams that show someone holding, handling, or transporting a firearm.”
And if you violate the policy, which company representatives have admitted was created without any actual gun experts advising, they will “email to let you know.” First-time offenders get off with a warning, the second time “wrongdoers” get a channel strike, and the third time they have their channels terminated.
Moreover, Google deems firearm-related content to be in the “non-family safe” category and Twitter proclaims its extensive prohibition of “the promotion of weapons and weapon accessories globally.” This includes airsoft guns, paintball guns and antiques, and “other self-defense weapons,” ranging from stun guns and maces to pepper spray and taser guns.
Gun rights activists say that a renewed anti-gun push took hold in 2018, in the lead-up to that year’s primary elections, led by the Google-owned YouTube, which moved very aggressively against gun postings. Hundreds of law-abiding users claim to have lost videos and often a chunk of their livelihoods.
The tech giants shut down historic even gun accounts. At that time, YouTube took it upon itself to abruptly cancel the popular channel for the 80-year-old firearms parts company Brownells, without notice, the company said as it appealed to its followers to file complaints.
The company said it used its channel to explain how various firearms worked and how to safely assemble and maintain their weapons, prompting confusion and grievance as to why they were targeted. Products designed by the company to enhance gun safety have also been banned, including advertisements for ZORE’s gun safety lock.
Last year, Google banned an advertisement for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), a Montana-based conservation group that posted a video showcasing the importance of hunting, slapping it with an “animal cruelty” label. It wasn’t until several Republican congressional representatives intervened that the clip was reinstated.
Facebook, which owns Instagram too, also prohibits the “sale or trade of firearms, ammunition, and explosives between private individuals.” Although “gun posts” are generally allowed, many say it is arbitrary.
One of the owners of FourGuysGuns.com who goes by the name of “Whitey” said he started noting an uptick in censorship around 2012 when Facebook went public — and it has risen ever since. FourGuysGuns.com sells firearm accessories and components and also provides a plethora of free videos and training tips.
“It suddenly became more focused on showing shareholders profit and shifting their business model,” he asserted. “Now, to be blunt about it, social media has ostracized Pro 2A Companies. With an almost ‘mob mentality’ and have branded us as ‘promoting violence,’ to which end users are wary of that.”
Additionally, it is hurting those like Four Guys Guns’ owners, who use the platform to make a living.
“Managing social media has become beyond difficult when you sell a product or service based in the firearms or defense industry,” Whitey said. “Because these companies are flagged as ‘promoting violence’ or ‘selling weapons’ they cannot pay for advertising because it goes against constantly shifting policies on community guidelines.”
For example, Whitey’s blog used to have a reach of over 3 million views per day and sometimes per post. Now, he noted, he is lucky to reach 10,000 views unless he pays to reach more of the audience that “likes” his page.
“The catch is, I can’t because Facebook has us listed as a business and also flagged as a company that promotes, glorifies, or sells weapons and violence,” he lamented. “We do not go against the constantly changing Community Guidelines, and it is tiring to constantly monitor.”
And for Jessica Keffer, the marketing manager at The Sportsman’s Shop in East Earl, Penn., wrestling with the arbitrary “rules” of the social media censors has become a daily burden and a steep impingement to the survival of her small business.
“The issues we have experienced directly relate to our attempts to ‘boost’ or promote our posts through Facebook and Instagram. We have had content approved and then disapproved,” she explained. “We have been told that because our website states we sell firearms and the ads direct to our website, they are not permitted as they are against their policies.”
As a result, the company is allowed to post content but not advertise, she said. If Keffer happens to get a response from a real person and not a robot when she appeals, it is usually along the lines of “it’s because you have a link to your website on your page which does sell firearms. That’s also against our policies; I’m afraid.”
And it is companies big and small that have been dragged into the social media silencing quagmire. Tom Taylor, chief marketing officer and executive vice president of commercial sales for SIG Sauer, said that the suppression is unabashed.
“Instagram and Facebook, Google and YouTube, Twitter, Yahoo – or virtually any mainstream search engine – is not allowing firearm manufacturers to advertise or promote via paid activities. No sponsored or paid posts are allowed. These platforms are built to be optimized by paid advertising so, the firearm industry is almost completely dependent on organic reach and grassroots efforts,” he noted.
He underscored that it is only becoming worse as these companies configure more and more ways to utilize these algorithms to closely monitor certain words or categories.
“Many companies attempt to use hashtags that are unrelated to restricted categories/topics or work with non-firearm specific partners,” Taylor explained. “Even then, if it is used at a high enough rate, a company may be warned, flagged, and/or blocked, that is shadowbanned.”
Furthermore, David Smith who has built an Internet persona as the “Parkinson’s Shooter” and goes around the world not only as a professional shooter but to tout the benefits of gun therapy for his debilitating condition, said he could simply wake up one day and have posts arbitrarily been taken down, potentially threatening his ability to make a meager living.
“I’m disabled, and social media is one way I rely on to fight this disease. I have a positive message and [I can] still be silenced,” he said. “Guns are always a topic ahead of any election, but this year, it is already an especially big deal.”
And many gun rights supporters worry that without a strong push from their community, more platforms will be intimidated into the anti-rights void.
“We see this problem get worse right now on Spotify and the aggregation of podcasts,” Kasrada added. “Podcasts used to be truly decentralized distribution, but they’re now slowly being put behind the walls and under corporate control.”
“Promoting and discussing issues is an essential part of how Twitter serves the public conversation. We enforce the Twitter Rules impartially for all users, regardless of their background or stance on a particular issue,” a representative for Twitter told Fox News via email.
Twitter’s rules prohibit the sale of guns on the platform.
Fox News has reached out to Facebook and Google with a request for comment on this story.