YouTube has chosen not to take action against right-wing video personality Steven Crowder after Vox host Carlos Maza posted clips of Crowder repeatedly harassing him with derogatory, anti-gay, and racist statements, which Maza says resulted in hordes of Crowder’s fans doxxing him and subjecting him to abuse on social media.
Last week, Maza posted a cut of Crowder’s show to Twitter, including sections where Crowder called him a “lispy queer,” a “token Vox gay atheist sprite,” and a “gay Mexican.” Other attacks included an offensive pantomime of Maza’s voice in which Crowder pretended to eat chips and exclaimed “just can’t eat one, like dicks.” (According to Maza, Crowder has also referred to him by the derogatory slur “anchor baby”). Maza said in followup tweets that Crowder’s videos, many of which had received millions of views, continually led to him experiencing a “wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter,” as well as waves of taunting texts to his cell phone number and on one occasion, a phone call.
“This has been going on for years,” Maza tweeted.
Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video "debunking" Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here's a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
YouTube’s hate speech policy page specifically bars “content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on a number of attributes including ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation. In a subsection, YouTube specifically writes creators cannot:
Use racial, ethnic, religious, or other slurs where the primary purpose is to promote hatred.
Use stereotypes that incite or promote hatred based on any of the attributes noted above. This can take the form of speech, text, or imagery promoting these stereotypes or treating them as factual.
Invoking hurtful stereotypes of gay men as effeminate to target a specific gay person, as well as disparaging references to that person’s ethnic background, seems about as straightforward a violation of this policy as can be. YouTube writes on that page that content in violation of these rules will be removed and can result in a creator having strikes applied to their account.
Perhaps that’s why in an obviously insincere apology video uploaded this weekend, Crowder tried his best to come off as indifferent but nonetheless felt the need to insist off the bat he was “not in violation of policy guidelines.”
Turns out YouTube agrees! The platform responded on Tuesday by saying it would not take any action on the videos involved. After claiming YouTube takes “allegations of harassment very seriously” and that they had spent days “conducting an in-depth review of the videos flagged to us,” the Team YouTube Twitter wrote that while Crowder’s language was “clearly hurtful,” “the videos as posted don’t violate our policies” and will “remain on our site.”
(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.
There are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating– we’ll be in touch with any further updates.
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) June 4, 2019
Gizmodo asked YouTube and its parent company, Google, via email why the specific language used by Crowder and highlighted in Maza’s videos did not constitute a violation of the previously aforementioned rules. In response, the Google Press Team directed Gizmodo to the prior thread on Twitter, but included “Further info on Background (ok to paraphrase, according to YouTube)”.
Gizmodo did not agree to any kind of “on background” stipulation with YouTube beforehand, so here it is.
Amid relaying some boilerplate data points on its anti-harassment policies and insisting that Crowder did not personally spread Maza’s personal information online—which neither Gizmodo nor Maza have alleged—the Google Press Team said that it takes into account whether “criticism is focused primarily on debating the opinions expressed or is solely malicious.” It also argued that “the main point of these videos was not to harass or threaten, but rather respond to the opinion” expressed by Maza in prior videos:
We have strict policies that prohibit harassment on YouTube.
In the first quarter of 2019 we removed 47,443 videos and 10,623 accounts for violation of our policies on cyberbullying and harassment.
We take into consideration whether criticism is focused primarily on debating the opinions expressed or is solely malicious. We apply these policies consistently, regardless of how many views a video has.
In videos flagged to YouTube, Crowder has not instructed his viewers to harass Maza on YouTube or any other platform and the main point of these videos was not to harass or threaten, but rather to respond to the opinion.
There is certain behaviour that is never OK: that includes encouraging viewers to harass others online and offline, or revealing nonpublic personal information (doxxing).
None of Maza’s personal information was ever revealed in content uploaded by Crowder and flagged to our teams for review.
(The press team did not respond to multiple follow-up requests for comment from Gizmodo on the specifics of how it determined Crowder’s language was not in violation of its hate speech policy.)
So in other words, YouTube’s stance is apparently that it is ok for a host with millions of subscribers (3,846,360 as of early Wednesday a.m.) to repeatedly engage in racist, homophobic bullying so long as it’s couched as part of some kind of ambiguously defined ‘debate.’ This is not only a fundamental misunderstanding of the intent of hate speech, which is not to “debate” or “respond” but to dehumanize, but is almost indistinguishable from bad-faith rhetorical arguments offered up by people spreading hate speech. In fact, Maza said that in 2018 he received hundreds of anonymous texts saying “debate steven crowder.”
Last year, I got doxxed, and it scared the fuck out of me. My phone was bombarded with hundreds of texts at the exact same time. The messages? pic.twitter.com/ls4qBM9k08
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
YouTube is refusing to take action on this not so long after it denied allegations its proprietary algorithms for juicing audience numbers are contributing to the spread and normalization of hate speech online—what’s been colloquially referred to as the “extremist rabbit hole.” (Coincidentally, one data-driven report by Data & Society last year listed Crowder as one of a network of 65 YouTube personalities, ranging from more mainstream conservative figures like psychologist Jordan Peterson to white supremacists like Richard Spencer, that promote reactionary positions through “an interlocking series of videos, references, and guest appearances.”)
“It’s bullshit and they know it. Literally every form of hate speech qualifies as a ‘hurtful opinion,’” Maza told Gizmodo via Twitter DM. “YouTube is trying to make excuses to avoid enforcing its own policies, because it knows that enforcing them would require them to punish some of their most ‘engaging’ creators. YouTube doesn’t give a shit about actually stopping harassment, it’s doing damage control so it can keep tricking advertisers into believing that it has the courage to regulate its own platform.”
“... Audiences don’t need to be explicitly asked to harass a target to become abusive,” Maza added. “If they see a major YouTuber doing it, they get the message that that kind of abuse is acceptable. Give me a break... My issue isn’t that Crowder is asking his followers to harass me. It’s that he’s harassing me, with homophobic and racist language, in front of millions of loyal listeners, thanks to an audience that YouTube helped him find and build.”
Maza posed a question to LGBTQ+ employees at YouTube: “YouTube has decided to side with the people who made our lives miserable in high school. It’s decided to use the platform you’ve helped create in order to arm bigots and bullies with massive megaphones. Why do you stick around? What are you going to do about it?”
By the way, YouTube’s account on the site is currently decorated to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.
I love that @YouTube, one of the biggest purveyors of right-wing hate on earth, has a rainbow avatar for Pride Month. They ignored serial and blatant homophobic harassment @gaywonk got from a guy with millions of subscribers, but look at the pretty colors. https://t.co/CTa75dA63w
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) June 5, 2019
In a separate statement posted to its subsidiary the Verge, Vox Media wrote that YouTube “now appears to be broken in some ways that we can’t tolerate. By refusing to take a stand on hate speech, they allow the worst of their communities to hide behind cries of “free speech” and “fake news” all while increasingly targeting people with the most offensive and odious harassment... YouTube is not enforcing the policies and are not removing known and identified users who employ hate speech tactics. By tacitly looking the other way, it encourages this behaviour and contributes to a society more divided and more radicalized.”
Correction: A prior version of this article incorrectly referred to the Google Press Team as the “YouTube Press Team.” The Google Press Team represents YouTube. We regret the error.