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YouTube’s CEO explains why it leaves up ‘controversial or even offensive’ videos

YouTube’s CEO explains why it leaves up ‘controversial or even offensive’ videos


Susan Wojcicki addresses ‘openness’ in her latest note

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

YouTube must leave up some videos that are “controversial or even offensive” in order to remain an open platform, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said today.

In her quarterly letter to creators, Wojcicki addressed YouTube’s perpetual struggle with troubling content and how to moderate it, saying that it’s worthwhile for the platform to allow videos the company disagrees with. “A commitment to openness is not easy,” Wojcicki wrote. She says that “hearing a broad range of perspectives ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed society.”

“It’s our job to strike the right balance between openness and responsibility.”

YouTube has long struggled with how to police and limit the spread of troubling videos, from containing conspiracy theories to stopping radicalization to limiting harassment and bullying. Most recently, YouTube was widely criticized for its handling of a situation in which a conservative YouTube commenter repeatedly made homophobic comments about a Vox host. YouTube ultimately decided that the homophobic language was acceptable because it was framed as commentary, and it took considerable backlash from the LGBTQ community both on the platform and within the company in response. (Disclosure: Vox is a publication of Vox Media, which also owns The Verge.)

Wojcicki says that problematic videos makes up “a fraction of one percent” of the content on YouTube, but they have an outsized impact in terms of potential harm and trust. That’s led to people believing that YouTube has no incentive to remove troubling videos because they lead to more views. “This is simply not true,” Wojcicki wrote. In reality, she says, the lack of trust hurts YouTube’s relationship with advertisers.

The blog post doesn’t include any changes to YouTube’s policies. Instead, Wojcicki outlined a new way that YouTube is framing its existing set of goals to keep the platform a positive, healthy space. She calls them the four “R”s: removing prohibited content quickly, raising up authoritative voices, reducing the spread of problematic content, and rewarding trusted creators. Together, those are supposed to help YouTube earn trust from creators and advertisers who have grown concerned by its actions (and, at times, inaction).

In order to keep the site vibrant, YouTube has to “strike the right balance between openness and responsibility,” Wojcicki concluded.

The concerns around YouTube moderation aren’t going away anytime soon. YouTube is still developing and revising policies to prevent major issues — its updated creator-on-creator harassment policy is still in the works, for instance — and bad actors will continue to push against the limits of those rules. This quarter’s letter shows that Wojcicki, at least, knows what’s on creators’ minds, even if she doesn’t have any changes to announce that’ll quickly make things better.