Russell Brand is a comedian, actor, and podcaster with a considerable following on social media platforms, including Rumble and YouTube. Once firmly on the political left, his contrarian views on COVID-19 and other subjects have earned him a substantial following among independents and conservatives, in the vein of figures like Joe Rogan and Glenn Greenwald.
Last week, the London Sunday Times accused Brand of sexually assaulting multiple women during the time period from 2006 and 2013. One of the alleged victims claims that Brand raped her at his home in Los Angeles and that she visited a rape crisis center; The Sunday Times reported that medical records support her story. Another alleged victim claims she was 16 when she began a relationship with Brand, who was then 31. The age of consent is 16 in the U.K., but the woman says that Brand was “emotionally abusive and controlling” and also forced her to perform oral sex on him. All four women in the joint investigation by The Sunday Times, The Times, and Channel 4 Dispatches spoke under conditions of anonymity.
Brand has denied the allegations, but the consequences have been swift. His talent agency dropped him the same day the story was published, and now YouTube has demonetized his channel, meaning that he can’t make money from advertisements.
The reporting in The Sunday Times is very detailed, and the story does offer some corroborating details, like the medical records. Brand has admitted in the past to struggling with drug abuse and sex addiction and engaging in lewd behavior—which doesn’t mean he’s guilty of rape but does put the accusations in context.
It’s fair, of course, to scrutinize the motivations of the accusers as well: The Sunday Times notes that the women wanted to talk to reporters because of “Brand’s newfound prominence as an online wellness influencer, with millions of followers on YouTube and other sites.” Brand’s supporters may see this admission as evidence that he is being targeted specifically because of his recently established animosity toward mainstream media and institutions.
Regardless of how one feels about this situation, YouTube’s actions should raise eyebrows. The platform has not punished Brand for something he said—for some piece of video content he created. YouTube is punishing Brand for conduct that took place entirely off the platform and does not involve speech at all.
As a private company, YouTube has the right, of course, to platform and deplatform anyone it wishes. It is not obligated to obey the First Amendment, extend due process to content creators, or enforce internally consistent rules. The company is free to do whatever it wants—and users are free to complain.
And this seems like something worth complaining about. YouTube’s guidelines do require creators to remain “responsible” both on and off the platform, and the company specifically prohibits “abuse or violence, demonstrating cruelty, or participating in fraudulent or deceptive behavior that leads to real-world harm.” But let’s keep in mind that Brand has not been convicted of any crime. His accusers remain anonymous. Will any prominent figure accused of sexual misconduct anonymously face similar sanction, prior to any criminal action taking place?
Due process, the presumption of innocence, the burden of the proof—these things are not legally required in a situation like this, but wholly jettisoning them is morally, practically, and philosophically unsound. It’s unwise for YouTube to put itself in the position of litigating extremely contentious off-site personal behavior. This sets a very dangerous, quasi-dystopian precedent.
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