Last year, after setting off a firestorm around YouTube’s harassment policies that even prompted a response from the company’s CEO, Carlos Maza disappeared from YouTube. Now he’s back, but this time, he’s doing it all on his own.
Maza is leaving Vox.com, which produced his old show, to become a full-time media critic on YouTube. Like he did with his old series, Strikethrough, Maza intends to use his new channel to talk about media, propaganda, and socially conscious topics that relate to how people get their news from a progressive perspective. With his newfound independence, he also wants to experiment with the presentation, making it a little funnier, a little more theatrical, and potentially a lot longer, he tells The Verge in a phone interview. (The Verge is part of Vox Media, which publishes Vox.com and Strikethrough.)
The decision comes after a big but challenging year for Maza. In June, Maza highlighted how conservative pundit Steven Crowder had repeatedly used homophobic language to harass him on YouTube. His tweets kicked off a heated conversation around the treatment of LGBTQ creators that YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki addressed just days later during an interview at CodeCon. (CodeCon is hosted by The Verge’s sister site, Recode.) It eventually led to the creation of updated policies across the platform. The controversy also led to him being mentioned in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Post, along with a legion of online outlets. It also led to further harassment of Maza.
The issues Maza spoke about last year — on YouTube, but also with popular media coverage — are still issues today. And it means that, even though his original show focused on critiquing mainstream organizations like Fox, NBC, and The New York Times, his new show will also have a focus on YouTube.
“This YouTube situation that happened over the summer … before it happened, I think I made one video about YouTube. I wasn’t interested,” Maza says. “It just happened to become inevitable to talk about the platform as it existed because it fucked with my ability to do my job. Now, YouTube is one of the biggest threats. It’s how a huge chunk of the public gets their news.”
It’s easy to question why Maza is moving to YouTube if he detests the company so much. YouTube remains one of the few platforms for user-generated content in a video-on-demand format that allows creators to monetize their work and reach a massive audience. Many popular YouTube creators have publicly spoken about being willing to leave YouTube for an alternative platform, if there was an alternative.
“I fucking hate that I have to use this platform because there’s nowhere else to go,” Maza says. “YouTube is managed by bad people and it’s evil in ways that people don’t recognize. The company truly does not give a fuck about the damage it does to democracy. I’m kicking and screaming working with the company in that way, but it’s only because there’s absolutely nowhere else to go.”
Monetization isn’t simple on YouTube, though. Certain subjects that aren’t considered advertiser-friendly may not be able to run ads, and creators have accused YouTube of suppressing views for videos that deal with sensitive subject matters. YouTube executives have denied these allegations in the past.
Maza doesn’t expect to earn much money from YouTube. Instead, he’s going to do what plenty of other creators on YouTube have done in the past — use Patreon to find supporters and hope he can make enough to keep his channel going and pay rent.
“There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, there’s no ethical production under YouTube either,” Maza tells The Verge. “My goal is that I can survive off of Patreon subscriptions and speaking gigs. I don’t imagine a big chunk of my income will come from YouTube. If there’s a way so that not even YouTube would profit off them, I would be happy, too.”
The types of videos Maza is looking to make will feel similar to Strikethrough: he’ll cover subjects like Fox News, the 2020 election, and propaganda machines, but he hopes to take a lesson from left-wing creators known to fans as “Breadtube” and have more fun. Breadtube creators tend to use theatrical elements and lengthier videos to talk about political, social, and economic topics. While Maza will use what he learned from Strikethrough on his own channel, he tells The Verge he feels like he’s starting from scratch.
“It’s not because I want to be another Crowder on YouTube, but I think I’m better at my job being independent,” he says. “I do think YouTube is part of the future of political commentary and political debate. There’s good and bad to that. That means someone like me could survive viably on YouTube. It also means that complete asshats, people with no research, and who are motivated by pure ideology can also do well on YouTube.”
Maza feels being independent offers him more trust from viewers, as well. Maza says he was frustrated during the Crowder controversy in part because much of the criticism he received was from people who considered him a cog in the NBCUniversal machine. While NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media (both Vox.com and The Verge’s parent company), there is no organizational or editorial overlap between the two companies. People saw Crowder as an independent pundit, Maza says, but he felt they couldn’t see past Vox Media or NBCUniversal when looking at his criticisms over YouTube’s policies.
Strikethrough was officially canceled in July 2019. Vox.com decided to end the show, citing a lack of editorial support, Maza says. He added that Strikethrough was becoming “too much of a logistical and resource investment.” Plus, blowback against Strikethrough was beginning to hit other parts of the team. “Every Vox.com producer — not just me — was getting their comments section wrecked and a lot of blowback in general,” says Maza. As the situation escalated, Maza felt like he put Vox.com in a tricky position.
“I’m a media critic, and my job is to critique the media. It’s harder to do that while working with a corporate media company,” Maza says. “Going independent has always been the dream — to criticize actors that you like, go beyond Fox News and the far right. Ideally, you want to be a media critic without being penalized by your employer so that’s the goal. It felt safer and smarter to go independent.”
Maza is leaving Vox Media on positive terms, and notes he was extremely grateful for the support the company gave him throughout the whole ordeal. Following Strikethrough’s cancellation in July, Maza moved from Vox.com’s video team to report directly to Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell in a new creative role.
Bell tells The Verge that while “ultimately the creative direction of Carlos’ new project moves beyond the scope of Vox Video, it’s gratifying to know Vox is a place where talented creators can find their voice and go on to accomplish big, exciting endeavors.”
“The harassment Carlos had to endure was abhorrent; no one should experience that vitriol,” Bell says. “Carlos is a wildly talented creator and important voice in today’s culture. We are proud of the work we created in partnership with him, specifically on Strikethrough. It was an impactful series, with a strong following, that took a much-needed and critical look at the news media.”
Maza plans to release a video every three weeks, a cadence similar to Strikethrough. He has no editing or production team. He’s still figuring out how to set up proper lighting in his apartment to make his videos look good. He’s not expecting to find a big audience out of the gate, and tells The Verge he’s terrified no one will watch his videos at all.
But he also believes this is what he has to do next. 2020 is an important year for the US and the world as a whole. The upcoming election, and how both traditional mainstream news corporations and independent journalists on YouTube cover it, will dominate the first year of his channel’s videos. He’s going to use his newfound independence to delve into topics and critiques in a long-form way, and he wants to try to hold everyone accountable.
“Even when I was at Vox.com, I was public about disagreeing with what Vox.com was publishing,” Maza says. “My goal is never to make a company really love me. As proud as I am of what I was doing at Vox.com, and as grateful as I am for their support and Strikethrough, my goal was never to be the Vox.com guy or the ‘NBC guy,’ but a guy who made good arguments.”
Part of his hope in launching this channel is helping people see Maza as just another guy making videos on the internet, not someone tied into a massive media corporation. He doesn’t plan to be in anyone’s good graces — except, perhaps, his viewers. His hope is that by the end of the channel or series, “whenever it ends,” that he can look back and feel proud. It’s similar to how he feels about Strikethrough, how he feels about the way he dealt with the Crowder situation, and how he feels about criticizing parts of YouTube that need fixing.
“I want to look back and feel proud of myself for not sugarcoating or watering down my arguments just to make YouTube happy or try to not have assholes on YouTube be mad at me,” Maza says. “There’s a whole corporate media system that exists to be nice to each other and pretends like nothing is on fire. My whole goal is to say things are on fire.”