Under fire, YouTube updates its policy on racist content and conspiracy theories

YouTube announced updates to its hate speech policy Wednesday that seek to ban content that promotes “supremacist” views, such as those looking to “glorify Nazi ideology.”

The company said in a blog post that the new policy includes any content “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.”

YouTube will also work to remove content that promotes misinformation, including conspiracy theories denying tragic events, like the Holocaust or the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last year, YouTube banned right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who was well known for promoting conspiracies about the Sandy Hook shooting.

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“The openness of YouTube’s platform has helped creativity and access to information thrive,” YouTube said in its blog post. “It’s our responsibility to protect that, and prevent our platform from being used to incite hatred, harassment, discrimination and violence.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a Wednesday statement that the group has been working with companies like YouTube to fight hate on their platforms.

“While this is an important step forward, this move alone is insufficient and must be followed by many more changes from YouTube and other tech companies to adequately counter the scourge of online hate and extremism,” Greenblatt said.

The policy shift is the social media giant’s latest effort to combat hate speech and disinformation spread online. In 2017, the company limited the ability to comment and share videos with supremacist content. In the same year, YouTube tightened its advertising policy for videos with hateful content.

As YouTube updated its efforts to ban hateful content, critics have continued to highlight the company’s refusal to remove videos with homophobic slurs.

The company announced Wednesday that it would demonetize the channel of Steven Crowder, a right-wing talk show host who had repeatedly attacked Carlos Maza, a Vox video producer. Demonetization involves suspending advertising on a channel’s videos.

“We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies,” YouTube said in a statement on Twitter.

The decision is something of an about-face for the company, coming after days of controversy surrounding Crowder’s comments. Maza posted a video compilation on Twitter last week that showed the many times Crowder has attacked him on his YouTube channel. Crowder’s comments include repeated references to Maza’s sexual orientation and ethnicity, including “angry little queer,” “gay Mexican” and “lispy sprite.”

Maza publicly asked YouTube to address the content, and called on his Twitter followers to flag Crowder’s videos. Outspoken social media users, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and figure skater Adam Rippon had jumped into the discussion, criticizing the way hate speech spreads on platforms like YouTube.

YouTube previously said on Tuesday that it would not remove Crowder’s videos because they did not violate the company’s policies. The company’s update to its review was attached to a Twitter thread in which YouTube explained its decision to Maza.

“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,” YouTube’s statement said. “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”

Before learning that YouTube would demonetize Crowder’s account, Maza was quick to call out the company on Twitter for what he saw as a double standard.

“YouTube's new anti-supremacy policy is a joke, a shiny prop meant to distract reporters and advertisers from the reality, which is that @YouTube doesn't actually enforce any of these documents,” Maza said.

One of the many types of content that violate the company’s hate speech policy is the use of “slurs where the primary purpose is to promote hatred,” YouTube said. It also now says it would ban content portraying stereotypes that promote hatred based on several attributes, including sexual orientation. In addition, the company’s anti-harassment policy bans content that involves hurtful personal comments toward another person.

Google, which owns YouTube, said in an email to Gizmodo that Crowder’s videos did not violate its policies because Crowder didn’t instruct viewers to harass Maza, and “the main point of these videos was not to harass or threaten, but rather to respond to the opinion.”

In addition to banning supremacist content, YouTube also announced plans to limit the spread of “borderline content” that may not represent a clear violation of its policies.

The company’s recommendation algorithm is able to detect borderline content and harmful misinformation and automatically reduce the number of times these videos are recommended to the user. At the same time, YouTube plans to promote “authoritative sources,” such as top news channels in the platform’s “watch next” panel.

Channels that repeatedly promote borderline content will face suspension from the company’s YouTube Partner Program, which allows content creators to monetize their videos with advertising and other features. The company first updated its advertising policy in 2017, preventing ads from running on video accounts that promote hateful content.

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