YouTube, X and Google must consider their decisions on Russell Brand

Russell Brand has 6.61 million subscribers on YouTube (Getty)
Russell Brand has 6.61 million subscribers on YouTube (Getty)

Russell Brand has 6.61 million subscribers on YouTube, which is about the same number as he had before the latest allegations about rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse became public.

It’s a sizeable audience – a little bigger, for example, than the more wholesome Ant and Dec can pull in for ITV on a Saturday evening – and one that has clearly not been so repulsed by the claims about him to make the effort to unsubscribe. Nor has Google (corporately listed as Alphabet Inc), owner of YouTube, seen fit to “cancel” Brand, who must bring them (as well as himself) substantial revenues.

As was apparent on the very evening the story broke, Brand was still able to fill a theatre, though his performance was reportedly distracted. His fan base, misguided or not, are sticking with him, most remarking that he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law – ie beyond reasonable doubt and setting a relatively high bar before they withdraw their adulation.

Unlike some past episodes of celebrity scandal, he’s not being obviously and immediately shunned. Indeed, he suffered more ignominy after the appalling “Sachsgate” incident. He has also received the huge bonus, from a profile and audience-building point of view, of vocal support from the richest person on the planet: Elon Musk. Whatever else happens, it seems Brand will have a friend in Musk and a platform on X, formerly Twitter (and a blue tick, of course). It also looks like YouTube/Google/Alphabet is in no rush to judgement.

This illustrates the changing nature of online celebrity, and how what used to be career-ending revelations can have comparatively little effect on the popularity of figures who thrive on their status, however bogus, as “outsiders”; anti-Establishment figures who present a threat to the supposedly corrupt “mainstream media”.

The balance of power has shifted. The most extreme example is of course Donald Trump – who has also come out in support of Brand – who skilfully manipulates his base so that every fresh charge laid against him in a court boosts his popularity (though not enough on a sustained basis to necessarily see him back in the White House). The rise of social media has allowed such techniques to develop in ways that would have been unimaginable in the past.

Yet, social media these days isn’t some sort of hippy hobby. It is just as capitalistic in habit and controlled by corporate interests as the established players. The commercial interests of so-called ‘‘alternative media’’ – in reality, the new media establishment – are controlled by fabulously wealthy vested interests or even foreign powers.

The difference is that the mainstream media, on the whole, is still doing its job in investigating those in public life and their behaviour, and reporting their findings, properly verified and legally sound. Everything is undertaken conscientiously and published in the public interest – which is more than can be said for some of the conspiratorial cesspits of social media.

For those who say Brand is being subjected to “trial by media”, the truth is that the media are doing no such thing. They are merely presenting facts: verified witness accounts for example and actual “in plain sight” broadcast videos – and as far as possible, giving both sides of the story.

In his case, Brand has claimed he has witnesses of his own to disprove the accusations. Very well, he can bring them forward. He can sue the media organisations concerned. He can clear his name, if he wishes, and shame those who have traduced him. He can produce evidence that he is indeed himself the victim of those with “an agenda” hostile to him, one of his Trumpian lines of defence. But Brand has as yet done none of those things. Meanwhile, the court of public opinion is plainly divided on him.

For all the perfectly justified focus on the BBC and Channel 4 about what their respective managements knew about Brand, it is some time since their one-time star talent was on their books and their screens. The questions now are for the likes of YouTube and X, and other online platforms.

They, like the older broadcasters, book publishers, film makers, theatre owners and agencies have a clear choice. They can choose to continue to be associated with Brand with all that has been said about him and with what he stands for; or they can choose to scale back or sever their connections until they are satisfied that, irrespective of any legal proceedings, he is the sort of person they wish to give a platform to.

The right of free speech as practised on social media, as elsewhere, does not entail an obligation to grant anyone and everyone an automatic right to access to a platform. As they say in such circles, free speech doesn’t necessarily equate to “free reach”.

The newer media platforms have a responsibility to safeguard themselves from moral stain and to protect their own reputations and, thus, commercial viability.

In general, they are not obliged, under any constitution, to host conspiracy theories, hate speech, vile antisemitic and racist propaganda or fake news. The case of Brand has to be judged in its own particular characteristics, and he should be treated fairly. Yet YouTube and X do need to take another look at what kind of man they think he is.

If you have information in relation to the allegations against Russell Brand which you would like to share with The Independent’s reporting team, please email