Conservatives greeted YouTube’s new policies on extremism with outcry this week, claiming far-right voices were being censored, even as the company itself struggled to explain the policy and its ramifications.
On Wednesday, YouTube announced it was rolling out new community guidelines for extremism, in an attempt to put the lid on a harassment controversy between Vox journalist Carlos Maza and right-wing YouTuber Steven Crodwer, as well as repeated claims that its current design is allowing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and more to fester on the site unchecked.
The controversy involving Crowder boiled over last week after Maza outlined in a series of tweets how Crowder had used the site to steer homophobic and racist vitriol Maza’s way via a number of racist and homophobic videos. YouTube initially declined to do anything about Maza’s complaints, but then reversed course Wednesday, demonetizing Crowder’s channel for violating its new policy against extremism.
Conservatives claimed that the demonetization was part of a wider liberal agenda to silence dissenting voices. “Progressives/socialists are the modern day book burners,” NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch tweeted. “Everything they dislike must be silenced, any challenge to their thought banished, be it with deplatforming, milkshakes, or burning buildings.”
Republican strategist Caleb Hull referred to Crowder’s demonetization as “straight up fascism,” while Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro used the 75th anniversary of D-Day as a contrast.
“75 years ago: young Americans braved Nazi fire on beaches to liberate a continent and defend Constitutional rights,” he wrote. “Today: young Americans [who] whine about people making mean jokes about them on YouTube and demand censorship.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also threw his support behind Steven Crowder. “This is ridiculous,” Cruz tweeted. “YouTube is not the Star Chamber — stop playing God & silencing those voices your disagree with. This will not end well. #LouderWithCrowder.”
Cruz followed up that tweet a short while later, writing, “This is nuts. YouTube needs to explain why @scrowder is banned, but [comedian Samantha Bee] (“Ivanka is a feckless c***.”) & [actor Jim Carrey] (“look at my pretty picture of Gov. Kay Ivey being murdered in the womb”) aren’t. No coherent standard explains it. Here’s an idea: DON’T BLACKLIST ANYBODY.”
(Carrey does not appear to have any sort of official YouTube presence, while Bee, host of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, apologized last June for her remarks about presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, which she’d made one week earlier on her TBS show.)
This is nuts. YouTube needs to explain why @scrowder is banned, but @iamsambee (“Ivanka is a feckless c***.”) & @JimCarrey (“look at my pretty picture of Gov. Kay Ivey being murdered in the womb”) aren’t. No coherent standard explains it. Here’s an idea: DON’T BLACKLIST ANYBODY. https://t.co/F6ez8XHzXS
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 6, 2019
According to YouTube, Crowder’s demonetization isn’t permanent. What’s more, Crowder has links on his still-active YouTube channel to a store where individuals can buy merchandise, including a shirt which reads “Socialism is for F*gs.” Together, these factors seem to soften the so-called “punishment” that Crowder’s channel received, a point which Maza noted on Twitter.
“YouTube does not have an anti-harassment or anti-hate speech policy,” Maza tweeted Wednesday night. “It has rules clarifying how to engage in hate speech and harassment with impunity.”
In response, YouTube offered yet another update on Wednesday night, where it hinted that it would further reconsider its harassment policies and potentially change them.
“In the coming months, we will be taking a hard look at our harassment policies with an aim to update them … in consultation with experts, creators, journalists and those who have, themselves, been victims of harassment,” YouTube said. “We are determined to evolve our policies and continue to hold our creators and ourselves to a higher standard.”
YouTube has struggled with the rollout of its latest anti-extremism policy, with its algorithm appearing to target some educators and reporters by mistake. Ford Fischer, an independent journalist who documents extremism, claimed this week that his channel had been demonetized as a result of the new rules. Mr Allsop History, a British teacher who uses YouTube to collate historical clips for teachers and students, also had his channel banned by YouTube for hate speech — although after outcry on Twitter restored the channel.
“I understand why they did it, but the implementation was completely awful and the change was likely rushed and ill-advised altogether,” Fischer told ThinkProgress. “The standards are unclear and they obviously did not do their due diligence researching the purpose and use of my work.”
Fischer added that YouTube had shown itself to be willing to crack down on other political communities, noting his videos of antifascists and marijuana activism had been unfairly censored as well.
As of Thursday, Fischer’s channel remains demonetized. “I’m relying on Patreon and crossing my fingers about Youtube to fix their issues,” he said. “As it stands, I’ve lost 1/2 of my consistent forms of income because of their ill-advised and probably rushed rollout.”
This article has been updated with additional comments from Ford Fischer.