YouTube carves policy exception allowing "hurtful" homophobic slurs

Nothing to be proud of today

YouTube admitted Tuesday that videos posted by a notoriously homophobic star violated its policy against "hurtful" language. But it said it wouldn't be removing them, instead carving a policy exception for a prominent conservative voice.

Last week, Vox journalist Carlos Maza publicly challenged the company to enforce its anti-harassment policy against Steven Crowder, a right-wing figure whose relentlessly mocking attacks, Maza claims, result in waves of abuse from his millions of followers.

"Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity," Maza wrote on Twitter. "These videos get millions of views on YouTube. Every time one gets posted, I wake up to a wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter. ... This has been going on for years, and I've tried to flag this shit on several occasions. But YouTube is never going to actually enforce its policies. Because Crowder has 3 million YouTube subscribers, and enforcing their rules would get them accused on anti-conservative bias."

Crowder, who currently touts a "Carlos Maza is a Fag" shirt, is also known for openly racist ethnic stereotypes, posting a video claiming that AIDS is a hoax, and sundry hooting bigotry along similar lines. After Maza issued his public complaint, Crowder wrote that he was "used to being smeared by massive media organizations" and posted a mocking "apology" video repeating the slurs.

In a series of tweets responding to Maza late Tuesday evening, an official YouTube account said the videos had been reviewed, were deemed to contain "hurtful" material, but would nonetheless stay up.

"We take allegations of harassment very seriously", the @TeamYouTube account posted. "While we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies. ... As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone–from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts–to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies. Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site."

Users quickly pointed out, though, that "hurtful" was YouTube's own term for a category of unacceptable material, as defined in its policies, and that its stated policy was that such material would be removed.

It's no surprise that YouTube tolerates such content in practice, despite its terms of service. The whirlwind of far-right content there attracts a fast-growing and lucratively engaged audience.

But it is unusual for YouTube to wrangle its own policies in public—especially to justify approving a specific user's language on its platform while insisting that it does not approve of such content more generally.

"YouTube doesn’t give a fuck about queer creators," Maza earlier wrote, and on Tuesday he added that YouTube had made it "crystal clear".

"@YouTube has decided that targeted racist and homophobic harassment does not violate its policies against hate speech or harassment," he wrote. "That’s an absolutely batshit policy that gives bigots free license."

Just a few weeks ago, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki admitted a corporate obsession with "maximizing usage statistics" to The New York Times and promised that the company would prioritize things other than growth and to change its algorithms to stop recommending illegal and inappropriate material.

Earlier today, the Times published yet another exposé: YouTube recommending videos of unclothed children to users interested in such things, an algorothmic "digital playground for pedophiles."

YouTube’s revenue now exceeds $15 billion annually and is growing at up to 40 percent a year.