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YouTube Says It’s Reviewing Harassment Policies, After It Condoned Sustained Attacks on Gay Latino Journalist

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MJ Photos/Variety/Shutterstock

YouTube, under fire for initially taking no action against a right-wing vlogger who has chronically bullied a gay Hispanic video journalist, said it will take “a hard look at our harassment policies with an aim to update them.”

Here’s the backstory: Carlos Maza, a Vox video producer, said in Twitter posts May 30 that since he began working at Vox in early 2017, videos by conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder responding to Maza’s video series “Strikethrough” have consistently included “repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity.”

In his videos, Crowder has called Maza a “lispy queer,” the “token Vox gay atheist sprit” and a “gay Mexican.” He sells a line of merchandise including T-shirts and onesies with a picture of Che Guevara and the slogan “Socialism Is for F*gs.”

Responding to Maza on June 4, YouTube (via its TeamYouTube account) said it would not remove Crowder’s videos or otherwise penalize him. “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site,” the video giant said Tuesday. Maza was in disbelief, tweeting: “I don’t know what to say. YouTube has decided not to punish Crowder, after he spent two years harassing me for being gay and Latino… That’s an absolutely bat-shit policy that gives bigots free license.”

Then, on Wednesday, YouTube announced that it had decided to punish Crowder after all: His channel has been demonetized — suspended from the YouTube Partner Program — and in order to be considered for reinstatement, Crowder must remove any videos that violate YouTube policies and links to “offensive merchandise.” In response, Crowder tweeted, “YouTube and Vox have launched an all out WAR on ALL independent creators. Thousands of channels under review!” and asked for stories from other demonetized creators.

In a blog post late Wednesday, YouTube head of communications Chris Dale, tried to clear the air about the Maza-Crowder imbroglio.

“In the case of Crowder’s channel, a thorough review over the weekend found that individually, the flagged videos did not violate our Community Guidelines,” Dale wrote. “However, in the subsequent days, we saw the widespread harm to the YouTube community resulting from the ongoing pattern of egregious behavior, took a deeper look, and made the decision to suspend monetization.”

In response to Dale’s post, Maza tweeted, “Imagine if you just enforced the plain language of your original policies instead of endlessly creating loopholes to exempt high-profile abusers.” Maza also has accused YouTube of hypocrisy, given its promotion of a slate of LGBTQ originals timed for 2019 Pride Month.

For YouTube, it’s yet another controversy in a long series of problems it has faced in trying to balance its stated goal of providing an open platform with the need to curb malicious content, misinformation and other abuse of the world’s biggest video service.

Also Wednesday — after years of criticism — YouTube said it will specifically ban supremacist videos including neo-Nazi content; previously, it claimed it has tried to clamp down on such videos by reducing their inclusion in its recommendations engine and disabling certain features. That came two days after YouTube announced it is banning young kids from live-streaming with adult supervision and limiting recommendations of videos that depict “minors in risky situations.”

The Maza-Crowder uproar has prompted YouTube to review its harassment policies. YouTube over the next few months will work with “experts, creators, journalists and those who have, themselves, been victims of harassment” to update the policies, Dale wrote. “We are determined to evolve our policies, and continue to hold our creators and ourselves to a higher standard.”

YouTube’s existing harassment and cyberbullying policy bans content that, among other things, “is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone” or “makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person.”

In enforcing this policy, according to Dale, context matters. “To be clear, using racial, homophobic, or sexist epithets on their own would not necessarily violate” either its hate-speech or harassment policies, noting that “lewd or offensive language is often used in songs and comedic routines.”

YouTube, Dale claimed, enforces its harassment policies “rigorously and regardless of the creator in question.” In the first quarter of 2019, the service deleted tens of thousands of videos and accounts for violation of policies on cyberbullying and harassment — as well as hundreds of millions of comments.

That said, he added, “If we were to take all potentially offensive content down, we’d be losing valuable speech — speech that allows people everywhere to raise their voices, tell their stories, question those in power, and participate in the critical cultural and political conversations of our day.”