In the ongoing social media conflagration fueled by objectionable content, Facebook has been drawing the most heat, followed by Twitter. But Google’s YouTube now seems to be angling for its own special circle of internet hell.
Like other sites that have become swarming hives of disinformation, racism, and hatred, YouTube has been offering platitudes about how it is trying to improve the content on its platform and weed out nastiness.
And yet not only has the company failed to fundamentally stymie the awfulness that has taken root, it seems to continue incentivizing the worst tendencies of the human race.
The most recent contretemps began with a tweet by Vox reporter Carlos Maza about relentless abuse he was receiving via the YouTube videos of right-wing “comedian” Steven Crowder:
So, I have pretty thick skin when it comes to online harassment, but something has been really bothering me.
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
Maza’s tweetstorm included excerpts of Crowder videos using homophobic and racist slurs and detailed the harassments he’s suffered from Crowder fanboys over the years. But he was particularly furious at YouTube for failing to enforce its own community standards.
YouTube’s initial response was stupefying. Five days after Maza’s tweets, the company stated that the Crowder videos did not violate the platform’s community standards. Then the next day, YouTube turned around and said it would no longer allow Crowder to monetize his videos because his channel had violated community standards:
Update on our continued review–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. More here: https://t.co/VmOce5nbGy
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 5, 2019
YouTube also took the opportunity to pat itself on the back while claiming that it has struck another blow in its war on hate speech.
[We are now] specifically prohibiting videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation, or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status. This would include, for example, videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology, which is inherently discriminatory. Finally, we will remove content denying that well-documented violent events, like the Holocaust or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, took place.
The next day, reporter Ian Scherr of CNet posted a scathing look at how YouTube rewards the growing genre of hyper-angry outrage-seeking gaming video creators on its platform:
Starting last year, a new cadre of negative YouTube gaming commentators came to prominence. Almost in unison, they each enjoyed spikes in audience and view counts, attracting hundreds of thousands of subscribers. That translated into millions of views a week as they dissected the video game industry’s missteps, misadventures, and controversies. The views get rewarded by YouTube in ad dollars.
YouTube was the subject of yet another bruising story two days later, this time by the New York Times‘ Kevin Roose. The story covered a young man named Caleb Cain, who was radicalized by extremist videos on the platform:
Mr. Cain, 26, recently swore off the alt-right [sic] nearly five years after discovering it, and has become a vocal critic of the movement. He is scarred by his experience of being radicalized by what he calls a “decentralized cult” of far-right YouTube personalities, who convinced him that Western civilization was under threat from Muslim immigrants and cultural Marxists, that innate I.Q. differences explained racial disparities, and that feminism was a dangerous ideology.
Naturally, these stories provoked a backlash from the far-right content creators themselves, who insist they are being oppressed by the machine of Silicon Valley — this, despite the massive bullhorn that social media platforms have given their views and the massive audiences they have accumulated.
All this fun practically obscured the story about how pedophiles were using YouTube to target kids.
This revelation also prompted a policy change from YouTube that included measures like disabling comments on videos targeting younger audiences. Of course, this policy announcement came via another long, self-congratulatory blog post.
Amazingly, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has somehow managed to continually sidestep the kind of personal fury directed at the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Yet YouTube remains as much a part of our cultural fabric as those two social platforms and riddled with the same abuses.
For now, it appears YouTube’s addictive algorithms and bottomless well of content will continue to generate forgiveness for the platform’s endless and egregious sins.