Following a series of accusations from Vox creator Carlos Maza, the Google-owned platform's content moderation and hate speech policies have come under scrutiny online.
Maza, a regular face on YouTube, has accused the site of "arming monsters" in a video in which he details how he has been the two-year "target of homophobic abuse" at the hands of prominent right-wing YouTube creator Steven Crowder (who has 3.8 million subscribers).
Maza shared historic clips of the Louder with Crowder host calling him a “lispy queer,” a “token Vox gay atheist sprite,” and a “gay Mexican” – all part of a bid to get YouTube to ban the account on cyberbullying and hate speech grounds.
Maza said Crowder fans too had subjected him to a "wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter" and "doxed" his mobile number [maliciously shared it]. There are also multiple references to Maza’s sexuality and ethnicity in the below video.
Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video "debunking" Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here's a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
Having probed its star creator, YouTube has decided it will take no action against Crowder, who has been granted protections due to the talk show format and "expressed opinions".
The company said: "We take allegations of harassment very seriously – we know this is important and impacts a lot of people.”
YouTube said its “teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the videos”, adding: “[While the] language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies”.
It went into greater detail: “As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone – from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts – to express their opinions within the scope of our policies. Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site. Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.”
YouTube added that it is still “evaluating” other aspects of the channel.
Content that “is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone”, “makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person,” or “incites others to harass or threaten individuals on or off YouTube” breaches these rules.
Additionally: “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes” including “sexual orientation” and “ethnicity”.
For breach of these policies, YouTube issues ‘strikes’ against channels. Creators or uploaders with three strikes are terminated. YouTube said it removed 47,443 videos and 10,623 accounts for cyberbullying and harassment violations in the first quarter of 2019
It put particular emphasis on whether the "criticism is focused primarily on debating the opinions expressed or is solely malicious".
It said that Crowder did not "harass, threaten, or incite hate" against Maza, but was rather responding to opinion.
After YouTube's ruling was issued on Twitter, Crowder uploaded a "long overdue and heartfelt apology" to "everyone he's ever offended". The comedic skit referenced multiple complaints made against him paired with insincere regret.
One point of concern for YouTube, pointed out by its critics, is that Crowder pulls millions of views each month, profiting from his opinions.
In the first 30 seconds of his "apology", which at the time of publication had reached 1.6m views, Crowder referred viewers to his 'Socialism is for F*gs' T-shirt. He told viewers where to buy the $25 merchandise, complete with a link in the description.
The store is hosted by Shopify.
In response to the ruling, Maza said: “YouTube has decided that targeted racist and homophobic harassment does not violate its policies against hate speech or harassment. That’s an absolutely batshit policy that gives bigots free license.
“If you’re an LGBT creator, YouTube is using you. [It's] trotting you out to convince advertisers that [its] platform hasn’t become a breeding ground for hate speech and bigotry. [It's] hoping you’ll distract advertisers away from the monsters they’re creating.
"And if you’re an LGBT employee working at YouTube, what the fuck are you doing? Helping a guy sell 'Socialism Is For F*gs' t-shirts? That company isn’t your friend. It’s arming the monsters that we’ve spent our lives trying to get away from. Walk out of there.
“[The abuse is] going to get so much worse now. YouTube has publicly stated that racist and homophobic abuse doesn't violate [its] anti-bullying policies. Crowder and his allies are going to be emboldened. I genuinely can't imagine what LGBT employees at YouTube are doing right now.”
He urged the LGBT community to sidestep YouTube Pride activities in protest.
“Stop agreeing to participate in YouTube’s Pride and public relations packages. The company is exploiting you while arming your abusers. Don’t let [it] use you in corporate branding shit.”
He later tweeted: “Can't fucking WAIT to see YouTube's Pride month video where they pretend to give a shit about the well-being of LGBT creators in order to *checks notes* help draw more advertisers to the platform to make more money.”
This issue helps illustrate the scale of the challenge facing the user-generated video platform but it goes further into the realms of misinformation, radicalisation, and user (and brand) safety.
The Drum columnist Samuel Scott previously claimed that "Human stupidity reinforced by YouTube’s algorithm may kill us all because the company’s recommendation engine is helping to spread a series of unfortunate far-right events". The marketing consultant took a look at the content a simple search for 'Nazism' conjures and claimed the platform has given new life to flat-earth and anti-vaccine movements.
For its part, YouTube is testing a fact-checking tool, informing users when they are research topics that are prone to "misinformation".
However, that's not the only issue facing the content platform this week. The New York Times branded 'YouTube’s Digital Playground, an Open Gate for Pedophiles'. Back in February, YouTube said it was “aggressively approaching” a solution.
Those issues aside, YouTube has failed to quell the concerns of advertisers. Earlier this year a senior exec admitted that the platform will never be 100% brand safe.
UPDATE: YouTube purged white supremacist and Nazi content from the site on 5 June. An award-winning history teacher's historically accurate lessons were also wiped, showing how blunt the approach was.
YouTube has stopped ads on the Crowder channel until he reportedly stops linking to his 'socialism is for f*gs' merch.