YouTube CEO Offers Apology After Gay Journalist Harassed — But Won't Ban the Content in Question

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 11, 2019

Susan Wojcicki, the head of YouTube, tendered her apologies to the GLBTQ community after widespread outrage that the social media platform has allowed a Canadian comedian and political commentator to continue posting personal attacks targeting an openly gay Cuban American journalist's heritage and sexual orientation, USA Today reports. But her apologies lacked something that onlookers might consider to be a crucial ingredient: Action to remedy the situation by removing the content in question.

Speaking with Recode Senior Correspondent Peter Kafka at this year's Code Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, Wojcicki addressed the controversy directly, USA Today said.

"I know that the decisions we made was very hurtful to the LGBTQ community and that wasn't our intention at all," the CEO acknowledged. Even so, she said, the controversial commentary posted by Steven Crowder — whose years-long series of attacks on Vox video journalist Carlos Maza is full of demeaning references to Maza's sexuality and ethnicity — aren't going to come down.

"It's just from a policy standpoint we need to be consistent," Wojcicki said, adding, "if we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we need to take down."

As previously reported at EDGE, the fracas began when Maza, who presents a video series at Vox called Strikethrough, got fed up after years of Crowder's personal attacks. Even worse were torrents of online abuse he endured from Crowder's followers.
Crowder commands an audience of about 3.8 million people, media stories noted, and Maza says that every time Crowder targets him for personal attacks — using insults such as "anchor baby," "gay Mexican," and "little queer" — hate and harassment from the pundit's fans pours in via social media. Maza's phone, too, became a weapon for Crowder followers after Maza was doxxed and his cell number posted.

To illustrate his point, Maza compiled a video consisting of clips of Crowder personally insulting Maza's heritage and status as a sexual minority.

But after Maza reported Crowder's antics to YouTube — which monetizes Crowder's videos, in part through the sale of T-shirts reading "Socialism is for F*gs" — the social media giant brushed him off, contending that Crowder's insults did not violate the company's community standards. However, as Vox reported in a lengthy and detailed article, YouTube's own guidelines specifically state that "content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others" is not allowed, and neither is the posting of "hurtful and negative personal comments/videos" about individuals. YouTube also claims not to tolerate material that "incites others to harass or threaten" people.

Despite such clear-cut policies, YouTube responded to Maza's complaint about Crowder and his followers by claiming that the situation with Maza was not covered by those rules because Crowder was engaging in "debate" with Maza in videos that purport to "debunk" Maza's reportage. Racist and homophobic slurs, YouTube reasoned, become part of political "analysis" in this context.

LGBTQ users and content providers remember all too well YouTube's history of curtailing content posted by and for the gay and transgender community — including a group of LGBTQ Google employees who took aim at YouTube for censoring gay content on one hand and allowing homophobic harassment to continue on the other. The Google employees created a campaign intended to call out YouTube (which is owned by Google) for using rainbow-themed imagery to seemingly offer support to the LGBTQ community, Vox reported.

Wojcicki also addressed that part of the controversy, Deadline reported. The CEO told her audience, "At YouTube, we have so many people from the LBGTQ community, and we really want to support this community, but we have to be consistent with our policies."

Despite defending Crowder's personal attacks on Maza, YouTube stopped allowing the Canadian pundit to profit from the selling of his controversial T-shirts. YouTube announced this with a tweet reading, "we have suspended this channel's monetization. We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies."

YouTube subsequently "clarified" the situation by saying that there was an easy fix for Crowder, saying that "in order to reinstate monetization on this channel, he will need to remove the link to his T-shirts."

Maza responded to this news with a pointed critique, tweeting, "Crowder's revenue stream isn't from YouTube ads. It's from selling merch and "Socialism Is For Fags" shirts to millions of loyal customers, that @YouTube continues to drive to his channel. For free."

In a subsequent tweet, Maza further clarified that YouTube demonetizing channels due to hate speech only provided more grist for abusers' mills.

"Abusers use [demonetization] as proof they're being 'discriminated' against," Maza posted. "Then they make millions off of selling merch, doing speaking gigs, and getting their followers to support them on Patreon.

"The ad revenue isn't the problem," Maza added. "It's the platform."

Wojcicki told Kafka that "context" was crucial in determining whether or not to remove content over claims of harassment. In the case of Crowder's posts, "We looked through a large number of these videos, and in the end, we decided it was not violative of our policies for harassment."

Wojcicki went on to say, "Let me explain to you why... First of all, we look at the context: Was this video dedicated to harassment? Or was it a one-hour political video that had, say, a racial slur in it? Those are very different kinds of videos."

"We also look and see is this a public figure,": Wojcicki went on to say. "And then the third thing that we look at is ... is it malicious?"

The CEO noted that in recent months the platform has made numerous changes to its policies, and added that the policies continue to be refined.

Watch Wojcicki's interview below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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