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Trump's beloved OANN gets suspended on YouTube for crackpot coronavirus conspiracies

One America News Network has hitched its wagon to Donald Trump, and that decision is going about as well as one might imagine. Earlier this week, the fledgling news network was reportedly temporarily suspended and demonetized on YouTube, according to Axios, because it was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.

YouTube confirmed to Mic that at least one video has been removed from the OANN channel and that the company has been suspended from the YouTube Partner Program, which allows users to participate in revenue sharing from advertisements being run on their content.

"After careful review, we removed a video from OANN and issued a strike on the channel for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policy, which prohibits content claiming there’s a guaranteed cure," Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for YouTube, tells Mic. "Additionally, due to repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policy and other channel monetization policies, we've suspended the channel from the YouTube Partner Program and as a result, its monetization on YouTube."

YouTube did not specify what video led to the takedown, and there is no shortage of content containing outright misinformation over on the OANN YouTube channel. It’s the same channel that claimed Trump outright won the 2020 presidential election, after all. Based on the spokesperson's description, it appears as though it might be related to the news outlet pushing supposed "cures" for coronavirus. In October of this year, OANN published a story claiming that a doctor in California managed to successfully "cure" 1,700 coronavirus patients using hydroxychloroquine, the drug that President Trump touted as a treatment for months despite little evidence to suggest its effectiveness and despite never taking the medication when he came down with coronavirus himself. The article has been removed from the OANN website, though it is still available in an archived form. A video attached to the article touts hydroxychloroquine as a supposed cure.

According to OANN, YouTube's crackdown came in response to an "unlisted" video that was not available to view without a direct link to the video. “YouTube took the extreme action of censoring a national cable news network for a video that was ‘unlisted’ and not available publicly on YouTube,” a spokesperson for the company said on Twitter.

It's worth noting that "unlisted" is not the same as private. Unlisted videos won't come up in search results or appear on a channel's page but can still be viewed by anyone as long as they have the link. They can also be embedded places, like on the OANN website, for instance. In fact, OANN President Charles Herring told The Epoch Times (another publication within the right-wing media sphere) that the video was available for viewing on the OANN website, though also said that it was "for review by internal OAN staff only," which seems contradictory, but whatever. Unlike unlisted videos, private videos can only be viewed by people given permission to view it. Only up to 50 people can be given access to private videos and must have YouTube accounts to view the content.

Regardless of how the video was hosted, YouTube has taken it down. It's the first time that YouTube has removed a video uploaded by OANN, and earned Trump's preferred news network a strike. YouTube has a three-strike policy for how it handles accounts that flout the platform's rules, with each strike carrying a harsher penalty before ultimately leading to the offending account being terminated.

The penalty for OANN's first strike will keep the company from being able to upload new videos or host live streams for one week. The strike is also an indication that OANN will no longer receive warnings, which do not carry a punishment but alert users when they are in violation of YouTube's rules. YouTube tells Mic that OANN has previously received warnings for similarly violating the company's coronavirus misinformation policy, so it's hard to believe that this crackdown came as a particular surprise to OANN.

OANN is unlikely to be going anywhere. While this first strike certainly represents an escalation in how YouTube plans to handle the channel, the punishments will be relatively short-lived. OANN will be back to uploading content next week, and can re-apply for the YouTube Partner Program in order to once again monetize its videos. YouTube did note that it does not consider OANN to be an authoritative news source, which means the news outlet's videos should not appear high up in search results on the platform.

OANN pushing misinformation should not come as a shock. The company has very clearly aligned itself with President Trump, and he has shown love in response. Trump has gone full "friendship ended with Mudasir", advocating for his followers to watch OANN and Newsmax instead of Fox News, where coverage somehow has not been friendly enough for Trump's liking. Trump has also been the single worst source of information on coronavirus, so it only follows that the news network that puppets his every word would spread misinformation, too.