Welcome to the umpteenth #YouTubeIsOverParty Yesterday, YouTube decided that when right-wing commentator Steven Crowder calls Vox video host Carlos Maza, who is gay and of Cuban descent, a “Mexican” “lispy queer,” it does not breach the platform’s policies on harassment. Not even after Maza called it to their attention. Not even after YouTube admitted the language Crowder utilized was “clearly painful.” The decision might not make much sense, however for those who follow YouTube, it’s totally unsurprising.
Maza has been handling Crowder for 2 years, since Crowder chose to begin “debunking” Maza’s YouTube series, Strikethrough, a show about politics, media, and technology. Absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of political dispute, but for Crowder those debates consist of things that he calls “safe ribbing” however in fact sound a lot like open bigotry.
Last week, Maza assembled Crowder’s “jokes” into a stunning video that inspired YouTube to open an investigation into Crowder’s content. To Maza and many others, Crowder’s engagement in homophobic harassment was unambiguous: Throughout part of the clip, he’s using a t-shirt that says “Socialism is for F * gs” around an image of a limp-wristed Che Guevara; he sells the t-shirt to his YouTube customers. It seemed apparent, all told, that what was in Maza’s collection would be thought about a violation against YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy, which includes a specification against posting “hurtful and negative individual comments/videos about another individual.” Nevertheless, that was not the case.
It’s not that YouTube does not think this is an issue. It’s that they didn’t think it was their issue According to YouTube, Crowder’s remarks do not break the terms of service since he hasn’t directly incited his followers to bug Maza and since they think Crowder’s commentary was mainly about discussing viewpoints. However mere hours after the company tweeted at Maza saying Crowder’s actions would not lead to his videos being eliminated from the website, YouTube announced that they had demonetized Crowder’s account because “a pattern of outright behavior has damaged the broader community,” breaking YouTube’s Partner Program policies. In other words: Wait, everyone’s mad? Time to reconsider things. (Naturally, far-right outlets are already frothing about censorship and political accuracy gone wild.)
Emma Grey Ellis covers memes, trolls, and other elements of Internet culture for WIRED.
The flip-flop might have been forgivable if it made any sense, and if it hadn’t become part of a years-long pattern of YouTube failing its LGBTQ developers. YouTube’s Partner Program guidelines include its neighborhood standards and regards to service and doesn’t include much to them. The policy they’re mentioning, enacted after YouTuber Logan Paul filmed a dead body in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest last year, simply makes it clear that demonetization can be a penalty for accounts breaching the spirit of those guidelines. As Maza explained on Twitter, demonetization is hardly a penalty when most developers make their money from brand deals, speaking gigs, merch sales, and Patreon. In fact, demonetization is something of a joke amongst YouTubers. Even after scandal and demonetization, Logan Paul still supposedly made $145 million last year. And despite the fact that Crowder described the day’s events in a Twitter video as “adpocalypse,” he guaranteed his fans there was a “silver lining” on the horizon, adding that “Vox [is] still gon na be pissed” due to the fact that “their objective is to eliminate people.”
Queasiest of all, YouTube’s option to demonetize Crowder suggests that the penalty for publishing anti-LGBTQ content can be the very same as the charge for existing on the platform while queer. Last June– yeah, Pride month again– YouTube said sorry to LGBTQ developers for demonetizing their videos for no factor (lots of developers alleged that putting the word “trans” in their video titles is what activated the demonetization) and for permitting despiteful, homophobic advertisements to run ahead of their videos. Before that scandal, there was the “household friendly” filter fiasco, which scrubbed even the most G-rated queer-adjacent material, like Tegan and Sara video, from individuals’s screens.
Anti-LGBTQ harassment is causing “egregious harm” on YouTube even when it doesn’t make headlines. Ash Hardell, a trans YouTuber, has actually been the target of “countless” transphobic videos, often from people with far-flung impact. “Harming me in this method got this individual enormous traffic to their channel,” Hardell says. “The video is now among the most successful videos they have posted. YouTube definitely rewards dispute and harassment with clicks, views, and cash.” That’s terrible no matter where it occurs. However on a platform that prides itself on cultivating the LGBTQ community online, that encourages its queer developers to take part in its public relations projects, that rainbow-washes its own logo design, such moves play out as terribly hypocritical.
The Maza/Crowder fiasco is simply among lots of concerns YouTube is currently dealing with and having a hard time to address. The platform has spent the week presenting ” brand-new” policies intending to appease the mad masses, but it hasn’t actually changed much and has up until now been unclear about how it will impose the brand-new policies or penalize offenders. Developers like Maza see right through it.
If YouTube wishes to do right by its queer developers, a neighborhood that brings millions of viewers to the website every day, it requires to choose what harassment actually is. It can start by listening.
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