YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki addresses hate speech controversy

YouTube chief executive officer Susan Wojcicki is standing by the company’s decision to allow conservative commentator Steven Crowder to remain on the platform. Her comments come one week after an investigation confirmed the right-wing pundit’s treatment of Vox host Carlos Maza was not in violation of its policies, despite Crowder’s consistent use of racist and homophobic slurs. Crowder has more than 3.8 million subscribers.  

“The challenge is when we get an allegation like this we take it very seriously,” Wojcicki told Recode’s Peter Kafka at the Code Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Monday. “We need to enforce those policies consistently because if we were not to enforce them consistently, there would be millions of other people saying what about this video, what about this video, what about this video? If you look at the content on the internet, you look at rap songs, late night talks, a lot of humor, you can find a lot of racial slurs or sexist comments. If we were to take down every video…” 

Maza, a video producer on Vox’s “Strikethrough,” last week took to Twitter to accuse YouTube of allowing abuse, use of homophobic slurs and bullying to run rampant on its platform: “This has been going on for years, and I’ve tried to flag this shit on several occasions,” he wrote. “But YouTube is never going to actually enforce its policies. Because Crowder has 3 million YouTube subscribers, and enforcing their rules would get them accused on anti-conservative bias.”

Ultimately, YouTube suspended Crowder’s channel’s monetization, or the ability for him to earn money by allowing ads on his videos, citing a “pattern of egregious actions [that] harmed the broader community and is against YouTube Partner Program policies.” Crowder also sells a range of merchandise, including t-shirts labeled “Socialism Is For Fgs.” 

YouTube, amid heightened criticism, also made changes to its hate-speech policy that will see the removal of thousands of videos advocating neo-Nazism, white supremacy and other extremist ideologies.

Wojcicki said these changes are amongst many others in the works as the company considers both stricter internal policies and external regulation.

Wojcicki issued a careful apology to the LGBTQ community. If she could do it again, she said, she would have addressed Crowder’s monetization immediately: “I know that the decision we made was hurtful to the LGBTQ community and that was not our intention at all,” she said. “I thought it was really important to be upfront about that and say that wasn’t our intention and we are really sorry about that.”

On monetization specifically, Wojcicki explained that YouTube has a much “higher standard” for creators who earn money from their videos. Still, YouTube has been slow to adopt policies that keep its users safe from hate speech.

Tip-toeing around Kafka’s targeted questions, Wojcicki repeatedly explained the company was having a tough week and avoided providing direct responses to several pointed inquiries.

“We are focused on having high-quality content available but we also want a broad range to enable lots of different point of views,” she said. “Any time that you have a bunch of creators or people are upset, it’s difficult. This week it was unfortunate, we managed to upset everybody. It’s not an easy job. It’s a tough job but I’m encouraged by the fact that I hear so many good stories of people that have been able to pursue their passion [on YouTube].”

You can watch Kafka’s full interview with Wojcicki below.