YouTube Institutes Stricter Harassment Policy, Won’t Exempt Public Figures

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YouTube has promised to ramp up its fight against hate and harassment: The Google-owned video service announced changes to its harassment policy Wednesday, which include a ban on implicit threats of violence and insults that target someone for their race, gender expression or sexual orientation.

“We will not tolerate harassment,” said YouTube’s global head of trust and safety Matt Halprin in a blog post. “Harassment hurts our community by making people less inclined to share their opinions and engage with each other.”

YouTube has long had a policy to remove videos that contain explicit threats of violence. Under its new harassment policy, the service aims to also take down videos that simulate violence against an individual, or that suggest that violence may happen.  “No individual should be subject to harassment that suggests violence,” Halprin said.

In addition, YouTube also wants to crack down on sexist, racist and homophobic insults. “We will no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation,” Halprin said.

He specifically added that this will also be applied to videos posted by public officials — a noteworthy distinction that could set YouTube apart from some of its competitors.

Twitter, for instance, has long exempted public figures from its hate speech policies, to the dismay of critics who have argued that President Trump repeatedly violated those policies. Instead, Twitter said in June that it would flag tweets from public figures that were violating its policies as such.

YouTube also pledged Wednesday that it would take action against creators who repeatedly toe the line on harassment. “Channels that repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy will be suspended from (the YouTube partner program), eliminating their ability to make money on YouTube,” said Halprin.

As important as these policy changes may be, the real test will be in YouTube’s enforcement  efforts. The video service said Wednesday that it had already removed 16 million comments violating its policies in the third quarter of this year. The site also began to take action against one of its more prolific creators this week, with BuzzFeed reporting that it removed videos by right-wing comedian Steven Crowder that had targeted a former Vox journalist for his ethnicity and sexual orientation.

YouTube had previously said it was developing a new anti-harassment policy, something CEO Susan Wojcicki cited in her letter to the creator community last month.