YouTube has banned right-wing personality Steven Crowder from selling ads on its platform, despite yesterday declaring his bullying of Vox reporter Carlos Maca, a gay Latino man, didn’t violate YouTube policies. It’s the end of the beginning of the end of a shitshow of rule enforcement and free speech debate that could only exist in 2019.
The response comes less than a day after YouTube publicly notified Maza – six days after he had flagged an ongoing harassment campaign from Crowder – that the statements against him, while deeply offensive, didn’t violate policies.
Maza said he had faced years of abuse from Crowder’s 3.8 million followers as a result of the host’s continued effort to label him a “lispy queer,” an “anchor baby“, and a “gay Mexican.” At one point, Maza’s phone number was leaked and he was bombarded with text messages about the right-wing personality.
So what changed in the 24 hrs that passed since YouTube’s initial statement? Well, depends on what hour of the day you were paying attention.
Early on Thursday morning, YouTube responded publicly to Maza’s tweets, saying Crowder’s channel would have its monetisation pulled “because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community.”
About an hour later, after Maza pushed back against the ruling, Youtube clarified that the real issue seemed to be a link on Crowder’s profile to his merchandise store, which sold a line of T-shirts printed with offensive slogans like “socialism is for fags.”
Here was YouTube, facing a tidal wave of harassment complaints and a pushback from both its own employees and the LGBT community, telling the world the real problem seemed to be merchandise made by a creator, completely unrelated to them.
Sorry for the confusion, we were responding to your tweets about the T-shirts. Again, this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community. To be reinstated, he will need to address all of the issues with his channel.
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019
Thirty minutes went by after that announcement before YouTube had to clarify once more, saying it was responding to Maza’s mention of Crowder’s shirts. “Again, this channel is demonetized due to continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community,” read a tweet. So YouTube’s end ruling, at least for now, is that Crowder must fix multiple issues with his channel – but did not specify exactly what those issues were.
It has all been a mess.
YouTube – owned by Google – is a billion dollar company. The inability of such a company to properly police itself, or to at least be clear about how it goes about policing, is both a problem and telling of a platform that has contributed multiple subcultures built on the very things it is now struggling to regulate.
Julia Wong, a reporter at The Guardian, perfectly outlined the problem YouTube now faces: its model of paying people to broadcast content while also refusing to take any responsibility for it is not sustainable.
Under YouTube’s revenue sharing model, it is paying people to broadcast content that it does not take any responsibility for. That’s literally insane. If you’re an asshole who likes to be racist and homophobic, and someone is willing to pay you to do it, you would probably do it.
— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) June 5, 2019
Right-wing creators and talking heads will label all of this a miscarriage of justice – a few people getting their feelings hurt who don’t know how to deal. They’re allowed that argument directly because of YouTube’s initial announcement that Crowder had not broken any rules. It doesn’t matter what they say now. And that’s exactly how YouTube (and, honestly, most social media companies) design their rules and regulations. They aren’t meant to be cold and hard – Big Tech’s rules are pliable and squishy and easily hummed over, a speed bump to the ultimate goals of growth and cash.
Tech policy is about making your rules as squishy as possible, so when it comes to enforcing them you can throw a dart at the board to make it seem like you’re actually doing something.
— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) June 5, 2019
Around about the same time that YouTube began responding to Maza’s complaints on Thursday morning, the company also announced it would be banning videos promoting extreme views like Nazi ideology, fascism, supremacism, or Holocaust denial. They made that decision today, for some reason, so try not to think about why it took them so long. An attorney for the families of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre has already told the press the ban it’s “too late to undo the harm.”
But since its latest announcement, YouTube has already caught other outlets in the crossfire. News2Share, a channel which reports on extremism wherever it bubbles up, has been flagged for review. The channel’s founder, Ford Fischer, tweeted that one of the flagged videos showed an activist confronting a Holocaust denier – not actually sharing that anti-Semitic falsehood.
Youtube is providing cover for the very people they claim to be combatting when they cast a wide net that removes every kind of content creator.
— Ford Fischer (@FordFischer) June 5, 2019
Bans, demonetisation, and a swiss-cheese rulesheet, YouTube’s rushed effort at handling legitimate harassment has opened up a larger wormhole it will have to use considerable resources to shut closed.
Looking at the history, you wouldn’t bet on that.