YouTube today announced an expansion of its anti-harassment policy that will ban video creators from insulting one another on the basis of their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation — even if the person they are insulting is a popular creator, celebrity, politician, or other public figure. The new policy comes several months after YouTube was criticized for declining to remove videos posted by right-wing commentator Steven Crowder in which he repeatedly called Vox video host Carlos Maza a “lispy queer,” among other things. In the face of strong public outrage, YouTube said it would reconsider all of its harassment policies.
The review was initially intended to focus on videos in which one creator targets another, like what happened in the Crowder case. But today’s update goes further, making four core changes to YouTube’s policy.
One, the policy expands the types of threats that are now banned. Historically, YouTube has banned direct threats like “I’m going to kill you.” Now, more veiled and implied threats will be banned as well. That means no brandishing a weapon while discussing someone, or altering a violent video game to put someone else’s face on a murder victim.
Two, the policy now bans targeted harassment campaigns. In an interview, the company told me that harassment on YouTube often doesn’t come down to a single insult. Instead, it’s a sustained effort over many videos. Under the new policy, YouTube will now take a more holistic view of what a creator is saying on their channel. Even if individual videos don’t necessarily cross the line, if they still contribute to the persecution of another person or creator, they’re eligible for removal.
This expansion of the policy directly addresses an omission that contributed to Crowder’s harassment campaign, which Maza illustrated with a viral supercut of the times Crowder had targeted him. At the time, YouTube said that because Crowder’s insults came within the context of longer videos about many other subjects, it would be unfair to remove them. The new policy should make it harder for other bad actors to use YouTube the way Crowder did.
Three, the policy now bans insults on the basis of a protected class, such as race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. So: no more “lispy queer” slurs. The policy applies to all individuals, whether they are creators or not, and even if they are public figures, where social networks have historically tolerated much more offensive speech.
Finally, YouTube is expanding a program that uses machine learning to identify potentially offensive comments and stick them into a holding pen where creators can decide whether they want the comment to appear under their videos. The feature has been turned on by default for most creators since earlier this year.
“We remain committed to our openness as a platform and to ensuring that spirited debate and a vigorous exchange of ideas continue to thrive here,” said Matt Halprin, YouTube’s vice president of trust and safety, in a blog post. “However, we will not tolerate harassment and we believe the steps outlined below will contribute to our mission by making YouTube a better place for anyone to share their story or opinion.”