Staunton, August 27 – Google announced last year that YouTube would not carry paid promotions in most of the non-Russian languages of the former Soviet space because the small sizes of the audiences involved meant it was not cost efficient to maintain the staffs necessary to monitor their content to block hate speech and fake news.
Instead, the company said at the time, it would allow materials in 44 languages, including Russian and Ukrainian but not Belarusian or the languages of most post-Soviet states and all of the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation, a move that has infuriated speakers in many of them.
The issue recently came to broader attention after Francišak Viačorka, who oversees YouTube operations for Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service said he had been told by the company that he should just shift to Russian, something he said he was not prepared to do for political reasons.
Today, Moscow’s Kommersant picked up this story and came to Google’s defense, arguing that the move last year was simply a business decision but acknowledging that from the perspective of those who speak the languages excluded, it looks like an attack on their dignity and another case of Kremlin lobbying against them (kommersant.ru/doc/4073227).
“All who work in the Belarusian language have encountered an analogous problem and the loss of audience. I would like to believe,” Viačorka says, “this this decision was taken on economic grounds.” But it is possible that this reflects the influence of the Kremlin “which is fighting for the Russian-language space” and view it as “a weapon and instrument of political influence.”
Google did not respond to questions from Kommersant, but the Russian experts with which the Moscow paper spoke were unanimous in suggesting that businesses couldn’t be expected to spend the necessary amounts of money to deal with languages which have only a small number of speakers.
Politics, they said, have nothing to do with the decision. That may be true, but the decision has political consequences for those who speak the languages YouTube isn’t featuring anymore.