Skip to main content

YouTube decides that homophobic harassment does not violate its policies

YouTube decides that homophobic harassment does not violate its policies


The company sides with edgy commentator Steven Crowder

Share this story

The YouTube logo against a black background with red X marks.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

YouTube has at last formally responded to an explosive and controversial feud between Vox writer and video host Carlos Maza and conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder. The verdict: YouTube says Crowder did not violate any of its policies and that Crowder’s YouTube channel will stay up, despite his repeated homophobic slurs directed at Maza in videos posted to YouTube.

(Disclosure: Vox is a publication of Vox Media, which also owns The Verge.)

Crowder has routinely, over the course of years, made derogatory and mocking remarks about Maza’s sexuality and ethnicity when making videos attempting to debunk the Vox video series Strikethrough. Maza posted a cut of Crowder’s remarks last week:

Crowder likened his remarks to jokes, calling them “harmless ribbing” in a response video earlier this week. Crowder also sells a T-shirt on his website, an image of which is also his featured Twitter banner photo, that features a homophobic slur with one letter omitted. Crowder supporters have since fashioned a version of the T-shirt specifically targeting Maza.

After days of silence, YouTube now says it doesn’t think Crowder’s homophobic and racist slurs, including Crowder calling Maza a “lispy queer” and a “gay Mexican,” qualify as harassment. Notably, the company did not mention the phrase “hate speech,” indicating it does not seem to classify Crowder’s homophobic mockery as such.

“The videos as posted don’t violate our policies.”

“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,” reads a tweet published this evening from the official @TeamYouTube Twitter account and posted as a reply to Maza’s original tweet highlighting Crowder’s abuse.

“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,” read follow-up tweets from YouTube. “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”

YouTube made sure to clarify in one final follow-up tweet that “even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.” The company says it’s “still evaluating” Crowder’s channel for other violations, although it’s not clear what aspect of the investigation is still pending.

Notably, YouTube did not say who on its teams conducted this “in-depth review,” how many people were on those teams, what content they reviewed, how they applied YouTube’s policies and rules to evaluating that content, and if this decision was made unanimously by those teams or approved up a chain of command.

Instead, the company chose to reply to Maza on Twitter.

In response, Maza said he was stunned by YouTube’s verdict. On Twitter, he wrote, “I don’t know what to say. @YouTube has decided not to punish Crowder, after he spent two years harassing me for being gay and Latino. I don’t know what to say.” Maza went on to say, “To be crystal clear: @YouTube has decided that targeted racist and homophobic harassment does not violate its policies against hate speech or harassment. That’s an absolutely batshit policy that gives bigots free license.”

He also pointed out the hypocrisy of YouTube celebrating LGBT Pride Month by changing its Twitter avatar photos to ones referencing the rainbow flag and promoting a YouTube-financed original documentary called State of Pride.

Google and YouTube both have numerous policies regarding harassment, bullying, and hate speech. As private companies, they also retain the right to suspend or ban users for violating these policies, using its three-strike system:

  • YouTube’s hate speech guidelines state that “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes,” including “sexual orientation.”
  • YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy guidelines state: “Content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others is not allowed on YouTube.”
  • YouTube further specifically prohibits “content that is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone,” “content that makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person,” and “content that incites others to harass or threaten individuals on or off YouTube.”

Maza says since Crowder began targeting his Strikethrough series and including homophobic and racist slurs in his commentary that he’s been subject to innumerable personal attacks on Instagram, Twitter, and other personal online channels. He was also doxxed, with his phone number posted online, and his texts flooded with messages to “debate steven crowder.”

In the past week, Maza says he’s experienced extreme harassment for even speaking out about Crowder’s harassment. Just yesterday, Maza was doxxed again on the far-right message board 8chan.

Maza acknowledged that he would likely face an intense wave of harassment regardless of YouTube’s response, and likely even more in the event it decided to take action against Crowder.

YouTube did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how Crowder’s videos do not violate its harassment or cyberbullying policies.

After this story was published, YouTube officially declined to give additional comment beyond its Twitter thread.

When asked for comment, Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell told The Verge that “by refusing to take a stand on hate speech, [YouTube] allows the worst of their communities to hide behind cries of ‘free speech’ and ‘fake news’ all while increasingly targeting people with the most offensive and odious harassment.”

Here is the full statement from Vox Media:

At Vox Media, we have embraced partnering with other organizations to bring our work to as broad an audience as possible. We believe in the advantages of a free and open web that allows people to find their voices online. We share this belief with YouTube, and have spent years creating incredible work on the platform and growing loyal, engaged audiences across the YouTube community.

But the platform and the system now appears to be broken in some ways that we can’t tolerate. By refusing to take a stand on hate speech, they allow the worst of their communities to hide behind cries of “free speech” and “fake news” all while increasingly targeting people with the most offensive and odious harassment. They encourage their fans to follow suit and we now see our reporters and creators consistently targeted by the worst abuse online, with no remedy or ability to protect themselves.

YouTube knows this is a problem – it’s developed anti-harassment policies to hold its creators accountable and remove them from the platform when they are in violation. Yet YouTube is not enforcing the policies and are not removing known and identified users who employ hate speech tactics. By tacitly looking the other way, it encourages this behavior and contributes to a society more divided and more radicalized.

YouTube must do better and must enforce their own policies and remove creators who promote hate.

Maza published a statement of his own, writing that YouTube’s policies are “meant to trick advertisers” about the platform’s moderation:

This just confirms what a lot of people in this space have suspected for a while: which is that YouTube’s anti-harassment policies are bullshit. They’re fake policies meant to trick advertisers into believing YouTube actually cares about policing what happens on its platform.

Update, June 4th, 10:07 PM ET: This story has been updated with a statement from Vox Media.

Update, June 5th, 9:14 AM ET: This story has been updated with a statement from Maza.