YouTube shut down numerous chat rooms being flooded for over an hour by racist comments when thousands of people tuned into YouTube on Tuesday to watch a House Judiciary Committee congressional hearing on the rise of white nationalism.
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The hearings featured officials from Facebook and YouTube, two platforms that have been under fire for their use by white supremacists.
When viewers opened up YouTube livestreams during the first hour of the hearings, they were greeted with fast-moving chat rooms filled with racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim rhetoric. As Alexandria Walden, Google’s public policy counsel, explained to lawmakers the company’s actions against bigotry on YouTube, almost half of the screen on the YouTube-hosted stream was filled up with that bigotry.
“We know the very platforms that have enabled these societal benefits can be abused,” Walden said.
Several YouTube channels livestreaming the hearing, including the congressional committee’s own channel, shut down their live chats as they became flooded with hate speech. Fox Business channel kept their chat open the longest of those viewed by Gizmodo, even as it was flooded with racist comments.
Meanwhile, the popular and overtly racist conspiracy theory YouTube channel Red Ice was fundraising while livestreaming the hearing as their own band of bigots filled up their channel’s chat room. For the first hour of the hearings, YouTube’s search delivered people right to the channel. Eventually, that chat room was shut down as well.
Google, which owns YouTube, eventually took action to shut down the chats entirely.
“Hate speech has no place on YouTube,” a YouTube spokesperson told Gizmodo. “We’ve invested heavily in teams and technology dedicated to removing hateful comments and videos and we take action on them when flagged by our users. Due to the presence of hateful comments, we disabled comments on the livestream of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.”
The full process across multiple large channels appeared to take over 90 minutes.
One common comment was to compare Eileen Hershenov, a senior vice president at the Anti-Defamation League who testified on Tuesday, to Jewish stereotypes as waves of comments accused Jews of trying to destroy “whites.” Dr. Mohammed Abu Salha, who had two family members murdered “execution style” and appeared before the committee, was mocked and criticised for being Muslim as he recounted the day he saw their bodies.
The hearing was linked from 8chan, a den of bigots and racists with outsized influence in the world of white supremacy, whose users helped hasten the toxic flood of hate speech. Conspiracy theorists and right-wingers kept it up from there.