YouTube is in dangerous territory after not removing a video that ridiculed a Vox producer for being gay

  • Carlos Maza, a producer for Vox, complained to YouTube that he was the target of hate speech and harassment by Steven Crowder, a popular conservative personality on the site.
  • YouTube responded by saying Crowder's comments were "hurtful" but not in violation of their harassment policy.
  • This caused outrage on social media, and INSIDER's Manny Ocbazghi opines that the situation calls into question YouTube's willingness to restrict accounts that perform well for them.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Manny: YouTube is arguably the biggest and most influential social media platform in existence. But gone are the days when YouTube's primary export was funny cat videos. Today, YouTube is the primary platform for just about every topic of video, from workout tutorials to beauty-guru feuds and this.

Carlos Maza: There's a lot of cool stuff in here, but I am not an energy-policy expert, so I have questions.

Steven Crowder: What were you holding, gay Latino from Vox?

Manny: That's Steven Crowder, a popular conservative YouTuber making a name for himself on the platform. That video was a rebuttal to this video by Carlos Maza, a producer at Vox.

Maza: Trump had tweeted a bulls--- claim that the Green New Deal would somehow ban cars, cows, and the military. How would you ban a cow?

Manny: While both commentators are taking jabs at the other side of the aisle, the difference between their language couldn't be any clearer.

Crowder: This is what Mr. Gay Vox wants to do. Mr. Lispy Queer from Vox. The gay Vox sprite is wrong. Now, he could be a tranny, your honor.

Manny: In a viral tweet thread, Maza complained to YouTube about this harassment, and it removed the videos in question from the site, underlining an effort to make sure they're hosting a safe and inclusive platform for creators. I'm sorry, what? YouTube actually did the complete opposite. YouTube responded to Maza by saying that while it found Crowder's language hurtful, he did not violate its policies.

The question here is why not? Does YouTube have a responsibility to regulate this? According to YouTube's own harassment policy, videos where Crowder ridicules Maza for being gay should be removed from the site immediately. If you look at the language of YouTube's policy, it says "hurtful" language is a potential justification for removing a video, and YouTube literally used the word "hurtful" to describe Crowder's content in their first response to Maza.

As the story continued to gain traction, YouTube issued a second response. The site decided to remove ads from Crowder's channel, but it's a lousy punishment for two reasons. First, YouTube already limits monetization on videos about hot-button issues that aren't deemed "brand safe," even when those videos come from legitimate news outlets. Secondly, Crowder doesn't just make money from YouTube ads. Under his videos, he includes a link to his online store, where you can buy shirts like this.

To make this punishment even weaker, YouTube said it would re-monetize his channel if he removed that link. What is the point of punishing Crowder for making hurtful content if that content is still available to the public? This entire situation calls into question YouTube's willingness to restrict accounts that perform well for them.

Steven Crowder has millions of subscribers and banks millions of views with his videos. Because of YouTube, his influence is strong, and his engagement is high. Punishing him would limit his influence, which in turn limits YouTube's reach as a platform.

With great power comes great responsibility. YouTube might have started as just a tool for content creators, but the company acts as much more than that today. It has an algorithm that recommends and surfaces videos that lots of people have already watched, dictating what gets in front of eyeballs. It's already doing things that influence what people do and don't watch, which means it's behaving much more like a media company than a simple publishing platform. Nearly 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and we watch 1 billion hours of YouTube content every day. So yeah, the power is there, but where is the responsibility?

In a blog post, YouTube gave another reason why it wouldn't remove Crowder's videos. It says it's because the point of the videos wasn't to demean Carlos Maza. This is confusing and allows for other users to say hurtful comments with no repercussions, under the guise that those hurtful comments aren't the purpose of the video. YouTube says it's gonna revisit its harassment policy, but all signs point to Crowder's videos remaining on the site.

By refusing to restrict Crowder's homophobic and racist comments, YouTube is inadvertently green-lighting the use of this language in other places on its platform. I haven't even mentioned the fact that Crowder's followers went on to harass Maza for days. This is not OK. For a company whose influence is growing exponentially, they could be setting a dangerous precedent.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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