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State of the YouTube: YouTube’s half-hearted shrug against harassment makes no one happy

Another day, another problem for massive video-sharing giant YouTube. It seems like every few months, the platform gets itself wrapped up in another controversy. Sometimes it can be controversies created by the platform itself, other times it’ll be controversies connected to YouTube.For the low-level grunts running the social media accounts and dealing with customer service, it has to be frustrating getting so many awful things airdropped in out of nowhere, then being forced to deal with the consequences because upper-management is too busy figuring out new ways to promote up-and-coming stars like Jimmy Fallon or Will Smith. Oh, that’s not-so-hot, is it?

Well, unfortunately for YouTube they found themselves in scalding hot water once again. And unlike the last few times, this case can truly set a precedent for the future of the platform.

Crowder v. Maza, featuring vicious indifference

On May 30th, Vox journalist Carlos Maza posted a thread on Twitter detailing harassment he’s faced during his work for Vox. Specifically, at the hands of right-wing YouTuber and self-proclaimed comedian Steven Crowder, along with his #MugClub. The thread contained a series of allegations, the most damning being a video detailing numerous cases where Crowder used derogatory language to insult Maza during a series of videos that ran counter (literally, in this sense) to Maza’s “Strikethrough” series. Please watch the video if you’d like to hear a sampling of what Maza is talking about, but it contains a number of racist and homophobic slurs with the intent of demeaning Maza’s character. Although he had been dealing with it for a long time, Maza had finally had enough and called for action from YouTube.

Carlos Maza✔@gaywonk · May 30, 2019Replying to @gaywonkThese videos makes me a target of ridiculous harassment, and it makes life sort of miserable. I waste a lot of time blocking abusive Crowder fanboys, and this shit derails your mental health.
Carlos Maza✔@gaywonkThat being said, I'm not mad at Crowder. There will always be monsters in the world. I'm fucking pissed at @YouTube, which claims to support its LGBT creators, and has explicit policies against harassment and bullying: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802268?visit_id=1-636215053151010017-1930197662&rd=1&hl=en …
View image on TwitterView image on Twitter35.1K9:08 PM - May 30, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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YouTube, at least publically, claims to support all creators of any race, gender, sexual orientation, and specifically openly supports LGBTQ+ causes on their social media accounts, especially since we’ve hit pride month once again. But, this is only publically; privately, YouTube still answers to the money and what they consider “family-friendly.” This has lead to them demonetizing LGBT content in the past and present, along with playing anti-LGBT ads on the videos of the creators. They don’t believe these videos are “suitable for all advertisers” due to the nature of the content. This is especially painful because they are trying to double dip, abusing their status as a beacon of salvation for queer creators while simultaneously giving a platform for harassment and bigotry on a massive scale. Calling YouTube hypocritical at this point is like saying the planet is dying; we all know it, and will be declaring it until the water rises around us as we return to Atlantis, but our tears just become part of the ocean. And, well, YouTube hates being public about these things, so they tried to just ignore the problem until it went away.

This was, of course, until a left-wing YouTuber known only as “Shaun” baited YouTube’s support staff into facing the issue head on in a masterful display of sleight-of-hand.

TeamYouTube✔@TeamYouTube · May 30, 2019Replying to @shaun_jenWe'd like to help. Mind sharing more details on the error message you see on YouTube TV? Screenshots of it could help us understand the issue better. Keep us posted.
Shaun@shaun_jenokay hello yes my issue isn't actually with Youtube TV, apologies. it is with repeated targeted homophobic bullying on your platform as evidenced below. why do you allow this harassment on your platform?https://twitter.com/gaywonk/status/1134264395717103617 …
Carlos Maza✔@gaywonkReplying to @gaywonkSince I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video "debunking" Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here's a sample:Embedded video8,63210:38 PM - May 30, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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Now, with no choice but to answer the calls for investigation, YouTube looked into the issue. During the downtime, both sides of the aisle started spinning their wheels about the potential consequences. Daily Wire journalist Ryan Saavedra quoted Crowder’s personal video on Twitter, saying, “A far-left Vox journalist is trying to get a conservative media publisher banned from YouTube for exercising their freedom of speech.” Meanwhile, leftist YouTubers rallied their causes as well, with another Tweet from Shaun saying, “[G]iven that youtube are investigating crowder now would probably be the best time to go and report the videos of his that breach their terms of service. searching for ‘crowder’ and ‘vox’ will give you most of the videos with the homophobic bullying.” Crowder himself even released a joking “apology video” where he repeats the homophobic and hateful comments again for his audience of lobsters clattering their claws in support.

So, after days of investigating, YouTube released their response on June 4th, 2019. And somehow, someway, it managed to make every single person angry.

TeamYouTube✔@TeamYouTube · Jun 4, 2019Replying to @TeamYouTube @gaywonk(3/4) 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.
TeamYouTube✔@TeamYouTube(4/4) Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.

There are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating– we’ll be in touch with any further updates.
3,9207:43 PM - Jun 4, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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Essentially, YouTube looked over all the evidence and decides, “Wow, this is actually kind of terrible, but it’s technically still allowed so we can’t do anything about it. But we totes don’t support it guys, we just can’t get rid of it!” This is despite the fact that YouTube’s terms of service specifically say that you can’t create videos harassing or calling for the harassment of individuals. YouTube gave a typical non-answer and, although it is unsurprising, it is disappointing.

Left-wing YouTubers and Maza himself were all confused by YouTube’s decision, lighting a fire under them to at least do something to hurt Crowder’s bottomline. Otherwise, what’s to stop other channels from using this case as a defense for their vegan neo-nazi flat Earth (yes, that was a real thing for one YouTube channel) and their insane ranting? YouTube sets a precedent by doing nothing, because non-action is deafening in cases like this.

Hbomb@HbomberguyA literal swedish nazi had one of my videos taken down by abusing your horrible system, but you won't punish a channel where a mug salesman commands an audience of millions to harass a gay journalist

Just in awe at how little youtube functions or cares on any level https://twitter.com/TeamYouTube/status/1136055959476817921 …
TeamYouTube✔@TeamYouTubeReplying to @TeamYouTube @gaywonk(4/4) Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.

There are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating– we’ll be in touch with any further updates.35.2K8:40 PM - Jun 4, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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So, YouTube looked into the situation again, and decided to demonetize Crowder’s channel. This was met with ire from everyone who supported Crowder, but only seen as a half-measure by those against him. In this way, it truly did finish the job of making sure every single person out there hated YouTube’s decision here. There were a few ways they could’ve solved the issue, and there was never going to be a route that made everyone happy. But YouTube still tried to make everyone happy, and in doing so dumped gasoline on all of the bridges they could find and just let it all burn down. Now that, that’s hot.

YouTube’s dangerous dilemma

This isn’t to say YouTube’s choice was cut and dry. It’s very easy (as someone who doesn’t support Crowder) to just say to deplatform and let him rot with Milo Yiannopoulos in a melting chocolate castle. In fact, I wouldn’t bat an eye if that happened. In my mind, this was a clear case of harassment that violated the terms of service, so there should be punishment of some sort. If smaller LGBT creators can be demonetized for “non-advertiser friendly content,” then Crowder shouldn’t escape punishment just because he has a massive fanbase.

The problem for YouTube lies in the optics of it all. They were in a lose-lose situation with the harassment, not due to any fault of their own, but through their negligence to deal with it before it became a huge problem. They could have issued warnings before it became part of his brand, but the man literally has a merchandising line with text on them reading “Socialism is for f*gs.” They ban Crowder, then the talking conservative heads have a field day claiming victimhood for media persecution. The legions of clever mugboys and Channers who support Crowder will claim this is “Adpocalypse 2: Demonetize Harder” or something along those lines, railing YouTube for enforcing anti-harassment policies. In fact, this is already being discussed by conservative talking head Ben Shapiro in response to a demonetization of Crowder.

Ben Shapiro✔@benshapiroIf @YouTube is now going to police insulting speech -- not violent speech, not incitement, not actual fake news -- because a virulently censorious, radical activist masquerading as a journalist complains about being insulted, they're a joke.
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However, if they committed to letting Crowder go, left-wing YouTube gets just as angry about the situation, saying it proves that YouTube is two-faced in how they slap a rainbow sticker on their face when it’s profitable, but will simply stab that community in the back when need be. After all, their algorithm is in love with injecting right-wing content into your feed when it even smells you could be interested in it, since after watching Crowder’s apology video for five minutes my recommendations have already been altered, albeit just slightly. This algorithm is discussed in a number of videos by YouTubers, and it has a number of names, but Jack Saint summed it up in a video essay he did recently, citing the “Anita Sarkessian effect” coined by Big Joel.

“If you happen to open a video about Captain Marvel between February and now, you’ll likely be struck by just how many of your video recommendations for the next week will be about Brie Larson, Captain Marvel, snowflake meltdown exposed.”

Because of this, YouTube recommends this easily digestible Crowder-esque content more frequently, despite how inflammatory it is. It’s not a far-cry to claim that YouTube is trying to have its cake and eat it to and, like a famous cake eating queen, will also find itself in the guillotine, God willing.

The defense of “comedy”

Then there’s also the defense of Crowder’s statements as “comedy,” and a reactionary call to ban all late-night talk show hosts, comedians, and journalists who use “offensive language.” Crowder does label himself a comedian, as do most people who want to try and escape consequences for saying horrible things. It’s an easy out to claim that a particularly inflammatory statement is “comedy,” and has been used as a defense by both the left and the right. Shapiro also went to bat for Crowder using this defense, and I personally believe it’s a weak and easy out.

Ben Shapiro✔@benshapiroNotice how this entire story never labels @scrowder a comedian. Which is, of course, rather important for interpreting his words. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/business/youtube-remove-extremist-videos.html …
Content “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion” and videos denying that violent incidents occurred will be removed, YouTube said Wednesday.YouTube to Remove Thousands of Videos Pushing Extreme Views
The decision by YouTube, which is owned by Google, is the latest action by a Silicon Valley company to stem the spread of hate speech and disinformation on their sites.
nytimes.com5,38312:39 PM - Jun 5, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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To go off on a bit of a tangent here, let’s use a DM my friend sent me the other day as an example. I sent him a Tweet about a professional Smash Bros. player who was also high level in League of Legends. My friend, unsurprising to me, sent a response that was horribly offensive and racist to the point where I started to question my own existence on this planet. Knowing him, though, it was in his mind an “edgy joke.” It made me deeply uncomfortable, and I let him know that, but that’s the risk you take with that kind of humor. It needs to fit a certain situation, context, and atmosphere. Being offensive is a thing stand-up comedians will do for a punchline and, in a bar setting of 50-200 people, it’s not that bad.

Now, compare this to a person with a massive platform making a similar joke. Instead of a person with a platform and influence making a joke for an audience of 200 drunks, this is a joke made for a massive public audience of many different people. With YouTube especially, this includes impressionable youth who are just clicking from video to video trying to find themselves in this grim, dark world, or just trying to get epic Fortnite hacks without viruses. More importantly, it’s all online, where three clicks can take you from a video about a person to directly speaking with that person. This is what happened with Carlos Maza, if his Twitter thread is anything to judge by. One person making an edgy joke is one guy being rude; the problem comes from when that edgy joke is repeated ad-nauseam by an audience of parrots who probably also genuinely believe in crazy things like Dinosaur Earth or Gamer’s Rights or, most absurd of all, the marketplace of ideas. It becomes targeted harassment due to the encouragement of an audience to harass a person, and that’s the main rule Crowder broke.

What’s your call, YouTube?

In an attempt to wrap this up, it’s all on YouTube now. They are the ones with all of the power, due to having a near monopoly on video streaming services. Demonetizing Crowder will likely be where it all ends, even if their PR department is currently in flames trying to figure out a good way to spin it. For the left, this is a terrifying sign that YouTube will not actually punish those who break terms of service if they have a large enough audience and bring people to YouTube. For the right, this is a terrifying sign that YouTube are going to start demonetizing ideas they don’t agree with if enough people create a Twitter mob for it. And for the enlightened centrists, eating paste and saying both sides are bad enough times to try and convince themselves it’s actually true, they finally have a company that stands up for their non-existent values.

Dan Arrows@_DanArrowsI really haven't seen anything as depressing as this whole affair in quite a while. As long as harassment and bigotry are profitable, LGBTQ+ creators are just deemed to suffer at the end of it or are forced of the platform. https://twitter.com/TeamYouTube/status/1136055351885815808 …
TeamYouTube✔@TeamYouTubeReplying to @TeamYouTube @gaywonk(2/4) Our teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the videos flagged to us, and while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies. We’ve included more info below to explain this decision:1,5553:50 AM - Jun 5, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy

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In my opinion, in case it wasn’t obvious, YouTube is pants-on-head crazy in how they handled the situation. It’s sickening to me, as someone who identifies as bisexual, to see that YouTube is not going to stand up for a community that has no one else standing up for it. They want to claim that “some opinions are vile and harmful, but also valid,” ignoring the further harassment that is encouraged by their half-hearted shrug in support of it. It’s clear at this point that they’re only LGBT-friendly as long as the money is there, as with most corporations. And so, just in time for Pride Month, YouTube was given a chance to show their true colors, stand for the values they publically fight for and support. And show their colors YouTube did.

And those colors were pure, unsaturated beige and unflavored oatmeal.

Sources: Twitter, Byte BSU, YouTube

Featured Image: McKenna Kolb