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Creators aren’t surprised that YouTube won’t enforce its own policies against harassment

Creators aren’t surprised that YouTube won’t enforce its own policies against harassment


‘That’s a very selectively enforced policy’

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Steven Crowder/YouTube

After five days of investigation, YouTube decided that conservative pundit Steven Crowder’s use of homophobic language to talk about Vox host Carlos Maza didn’t violate its community guidelines.

The response from the creator community was instantaneous. Many denounced YouTube’s lack of action, pointing out that Crowder’s use of homophobic language to humiliate Maza directly violated the company’s own rules. Others saw Crowder’s behavior as pushing the limits of what YouTube would allow, but still believed it was acceptable. While both groups were waiting to see if YouTube did anything, neither were surprised by the ultimate inaction: YouTube has long faced criticism for very selectively punishing users who seem to cross the line.

YouTube’s cyberbullying and harassment policies state that content “deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone” and making “hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person” isn’t allowed. Creators like Hank Green, Lindsay Ellis, Riley Jennis, ProZD, and many others called out YouTube for its hypocrisy.

YouTube explained to Gizmodo, in comments that it requested not be published in full, that Crowder’s derogatory language was acceptable because it was contained within criticism “focused primarily on debating the opinions.” YouTube also said that “Crowder has not instructed his viewers to harass Maza on YouTube or any other platform,” so he didn’t violate parts of YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy.

The stance received blowback from people both in and outside of YouTube’s community. Maza told The Verge over DM that YouTube’s response confirmed what many YouTube creators previously thought, “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,” Maza said.

Many creators agreed that the response was disappointing, but not out of character for the company. Riley J. Dennis, a trans creator who talks about gender and sexuality, tweeted “it still hurts to see [YouTube] actually publicly say, ‘no, we really do actually support homophobic abuse.’” Robbie Couch, who makes news, commentary, and lifestyle videos, called it a “cowardly, greedy, incoherent — and yet completely unsurprising — response” from YouTube, adding “you might as well not even have a harassment policy.”

Other creators, particularly YouTube commentators, don’t view Crowder’s language as harassment or hate speech and say banning it would destroy part of the platform. “There would be no commentary community if this humiliation policy was enforced,” says Een, the host of Nerd City and one of YouTube’s most popular commentators.

“There would be no commentary community if this humiliation policy was enforced.”

Crowder is a part of a growing pundit and commentary community on YouTube, where mocking other creators is par for the course. Their remarks are supposed to be comedic, but unlike on televisions shows with a large staff and network behind them, there’s no one policing the line between a good-natured joke and a personal attack.

Een said that Crowder’s content “walks right up to the line,” but doesn’t violate most of YouTube’s guidelines. If he “violated any terms of service, it’s intent to humiliate,” Een said, adding that the policy is selectively enforced at best. If YouTube were to enforce it, many commentary channels couldn’t operate.

Creators like Ricky Berwick, a comedian and popular personality, also see Crowder’s videos as in-line with stand-up comedy and online commentary. “Cyber bullying has been around since the beginning,” Berwick said. “I’ve always been called a cripple ... I really think you should defend yourself, but don’t cancel people.” YouTube’s leading drama commentator, Daniel “Keemstar” Keem, viewed Maza’s tweets as an effort to de-platform Crowder because of his political beliefs. Keem thanked YouTube for “defending free speech” after the announcement that no action would be taken against Crowder, adding that the company “did really good today.”

Maza told The Verge that people taking this development as a win for “freedom of speech” and the “fight against censorship” on YouTube are right — and that’s the problem. It’s further proof of “why that argument is wrong,” he said. If a company like YouTube is “not willing to censor hateful and abusive content,” it creates an environment where “hateful and abusive content flourishes.”

“But that isn’t a free speech environment,” Maza told The Verge. “It’s one in which marginalized people, who typically have the least access to speech platforms, get pushed out of the public square by powerful bullies.”