Saul Diego Reyna: sanctioned for talking about migration

Saul Diego Reyna: sanctioned for talking about migration
Illegal services
Content Moderation

Saul Diego Reyna, a Mexican youtuber with more than 2.5 million subscribers, has been known for talking about a wide range of topics, from migration to the use of clean energy, travel reviews and current affairs. However, the platform recently found four of his educational videos to be in breach of community standards.

In recent weeks, YouTube removed two of his videos explaining ways to settle in Canada. In the first, Saul, who migrated to Canada as a teenager, mentioned legal agencies that provide free advice, while in the second he explored the option of studying as a way to enter the country. Although his intention was to provide information on the immigration process, each video received a strike for allegedly promoting illegal activities. 

The tightrope of talking about migration in networks

As Reyna points out, his video about advisory agencies was also sanctioned on Facebook. It is possible that the platforms have stepped up their monitoring and enforcement of rules on these matters in response to a growing spread of misinformation and fraudulent practices related to immigration services.

A recent study by Verificado exposed the human cost that this content has on the migrant population, both economically and in terms of their mental health. According to the survey, migrants to the north of the continent have become victims of scams involving thousands of dollars for non-existent paperwork. 

In addition, according to an investigation by an alliance of media and fact-checkers, these scams include the participation of influencers who sell supposed legal services without being lawyers and fake recruiters who advertise on networks such as Facebook and TikTok, and then carry out the scams through WhatsApp.

In this regard, YouTube's illegal services policy prohibits content that promotes "illegal trafficking or smuggling of persons," which may have led to the penalties for such content. According to Reyna, who knows the difficulties of migrating , it was disappointing to have a resource that purported to offer free advice removed. On appeal, he explained that "there is nothing illegal" in the content. 

Other moderation failures

In addition to problems discussing migration, Reyna's channel has suffered sanctions for other types of content. In another video on the channel, Saul tested the safety of construction helmets by dropping blunt objects on a mannequin. Although it was explicit that his goal was to expose how helmets, depending on their price, can prevent injuries, this simulation earned him a third strike on his channel for violating, according to the platform, the violent or graphic content policy.

A fourth video, which discussed a social and political issue, reporting on the municipal plan of the city of San Francisco in the United States to pay five million dollars to people of African descent as compensation for the legacy of slavery, was removed within hours, prompting another strike on Saul's channel.

YouTube message received by Saul Diego Reyna.

YouTube has a general exception whereby content that may violate its rules will not be sanctioned as long as it is educational, documentary, scientific or artistic in nature. Although Reyna's videos did not violate the platform's policies, it is possible that talking about issues related to migration, accidents and racial discrimination could have been detected by the automated moderation systems and interpreted as a violation. In any case, the exception for educational content was not taken into account. 

According to YouTube's strike system, violations of the platform's rules result in the imposition of a misdemeanor, which in turn results in restrictions on posting new content. If three warnings are accumulated within 90 days, the channel will be permanently deleted. 

Reyna appealed the four strikes as soon as he received each notice, but, after a wait of several months, the reviews determined that the offenses would stand due to violations of policies on illegal services and violent content. For the latter rule, YouTube prohibits fictional or dramatized posts that do not have enough context to explain that they are not about real situations. For his helmet safety video, Reyna used a mannequin, "the most realistic simulation of a human body on the market," so it is possible that YouTube's automated systems may not have interpreted it as a fictional scene. 

Although in theory the channel has accumulated more faults than the system allows, it has not yet been removed and he was even able to publish a new video in which he exposed his situation. As he tells it, these inconveniences have meant a different kind of punishment: a decrease in the reach of his publications, known as shadowbanning. Just two months ago, his videos used to have between 500,000 and one million views, but after the fouls were applied to him that figure has dropped to 100,000.

These types of visibility measures affect not only the reach of users, but also the possibility of reversing the situation, since, unlike other types of measures, the systems do not offer the possibility of filing an appeal. 

Reyna's case also highlights the difficulties of dealing with migration issues on platforms. In times when migration crises are occurring in different parts of the world, and in which social media play an important role, the rules of the platforms, as they are presented at the moment, are not clear enough to differentiate between content that may pose a risk or a scam to migrants and that which, on the contrary, may be helpful. 

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