A gay Latino journalist publicly reported years of harassment to YouTube this week, setting off yet another round of escalating criticism regarding how the video sharing platform polices content on its site.
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On May 30, Vox's Carlos Maza tweeted that Steven Crowder, a self-styled right-wing shock jock and YouTube personality had allegedly harassed him for years.
"I've been called an anchor baby, a lispy queer, a Mexican, etc. These videos get millions of views on YouTube. Every time one gets posted, I wake up to a wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter," Maza tweeted.
"That being said, I'm not mad at Crowder. There will always be monsters in the world. I'm f------ pissed at @YouTube, which claims to support its LGBT creators, and has explicit policies against harassment and bullying," Maza continued.
On Tuesday, YouTube tweeted back that Crowder's videos did not violate its terms of service.
"I have spent two years getting targeted by racist and homophobic abuse from one of @YouTube's star creators," Maza tweeted in reaction to YouTube's response.
He accused YouTube of "pinkwashing" or promoting pro-LGBTQ content as a public relations move while allowing personalities who traffic in homophobia and racism to continue making money from YouTube.
"YouTube makes money off of anti-LGBT speech, allows bigots to develop massive, mobilized audiences, and then seduces corporate advertisers by claiming to [sic] queer people. Depraved," Maza tweeted.
Emails sent to Crowder's websites, which sell merchandise like "Socialism is for F---" T-shirts, directed ABC News to Crowder's social media profiles. He did not respond to tweets for comment.
The situation escalated on Wednesday when employees at Google, which owns YouTube, joined in on criticizing the company by tweeting from an account named Googlers Against Hate.
"Despite YouTube capitalizing on Pride as a marketing campaign, it's clear they have no issue making policy decisions that harm LGBTQ people like @gaywonk. We have #NoPrideInYT," the employee account tweeted.
Despite YouTube capitalizing on Pride as a marketing campaign, it's clear they have no issue making policy decisions that harm LGBTQ people like @gaywonk. We have #NoPrideInYT pic.twitter.com/onD1cARt98— Googlers Against Hate (@EthicalGooglers) June 5, 2019
Hours later, YouTube seemingly reversed its decision and tweeted, "Update on our continued review — we have suspended [Steven Crowder's] channel’s monetization. We came to this decision because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies."
Suspending a channel’s monetization blocks it from making any money on videos uploaded to the site.
Then, within the hour, another tweet from YouTube caused more confusion.
"To clarify, in order to reinstate monetization on this channel, he will need to remove the link to his T-shirts," YouTube said, referring to the websites where Crowder sells the offensive T-shirts.
(2/4) 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. We’ve included more info below to explain this decision:— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
(4/4) Even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
There are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating– we’ll be in touch with any further updates.
YouTube did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The latest comment upset both Maza and Crowder, with Maza tweeting, "Oh my f---ing god."
Crowder subsequently posted a video that talked about the coming #adpocalypse, a term he uses to describe losses in revenue for influencers whose free speech he says is being assaulted as platforms pander to the left.
"A lot of the information you've been getting out there is wholly inaccurate. The adpocalypse is coming for a lot of you. It's coming hard. The ability for one to make a living online, on any social media platform, but particularly YouTube, is about to change drastically," Crowder said.
Experts today have been paying attention to how these ideological battles play out on social media.
"There is panic among YouTubers who traffic in shock jock style livestream shows,” Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard's Kennedy School, told ABC News. She said some are moving to other messaging apps in an effort to retain contact with their audiences. “But, it’s difficult to tell what action YouTube will take today or in the future to rid these influencers from their platform."
"For years, many people petitioned YouTube to develop and enforce their terms of service to mitigate harassment, but YouTube does not apply these policies evenly. This makes serial harassers increase their torment because it makes for new waves of attention," Donovan said.
YouTube has also come under attack from critics who claim the platform uses algorithms that reward controversy because it sparks engagement and keep viewers on the platform. YouTube has previously denied those claims.
In a statement to The Guardian regarding research by the newspaper that found that YouTube's algorithm favored videos about Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the company denied that its system is biased.
“Our search and recommendation systems reflect what people search for, the number of videos available, and the videos people choose to watch on YouTube. That’s not a bias towards any particular candidate; that is a reflection of viewer interest," a spokesperson told The Guardian.
Another expert, Chad Loder, who monitors hate speech on social media, described creators who feed off controversy as "overwhelmingly young, white, male gamers who make their reputation as edgelords."
"This is YouTube’s core demographic. If they cracked down on abusive speech and hateful slurs, they’d drive away most of their independent creators," Loder said.