YouTube on Wednesday demonetized the account of right-wing commentator Steven Crowder following widespread indignation over its initial response to his attacks on Vox host Carlos Maza.

Crowder for years has attacked Maza, host of Vox’s Strikethrough series. Crowder’s homophobic and racist comments often spurred mass social media attacks and other abuse against Maza.

Maza repeatedly flagged Crowder’s vitriolic YouTube videos, but his reports apparently went unheeded until late last month, when he posted a tweet that went viral.

YouTube’s Response

YouTube on Tuesday responded with a tweet stating an in-depth review of Crowder’s flagged videos found language “that was clearly hurtful,” but it went on to say that “the videos as posted don’t violate our policies.”

As an open platform, “it’s crucial for us to allow everyone … to express their opinions within the scope of our policies,” YouTube said. Opinions “can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”

YouTube does not endorse or support the viewpoints expressed in videos on its platform, it said.

YouTube declined comment when approached by various reporters on the issue.

It did offer to explain its decision on background to The Verge, which is owned by Vox Media, but editor-in-chief Nilay Patel turned down the offer because YouTube would not go on the record.

“I believe that YouTube missed an opportunity here to be more transparent in the way it interprets and enforces its stated policies,” said Dan Goldstein, president of Page 1 Solutions.

Like other social media platforms, YouTube “has an obligation to clearly state its policies on harassment and privacy,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Once stated, it must enforce them, or users won’t respect the boundaries.”

YouTube did not shut the door on further action Tuesday, tweeting “there are other aspects of the channel that we’re still evaluating. We’ll be in touch with any further updates.”

YouTube’s Policies

YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy bars content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten or bully others, including the following:

  • Revealing someone’s personal information — although posting widely available public information, such as a public official’s office phone number, is allowed;
  • Content deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone;
  • Content that makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person;
  • Content that incites others to harass or threaten individuals on or off YouTube; and
  • Sexualizing or degrading an individual who is engaged or present in an otherwise non-sexual context.

YouTube will remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on various attributes, including the following:

  • Ethnicity
  • Gender identity
  • Nationality
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation

Crowder’s attacks on Maza appear to have breached both policies.

However, what one person considers hurtful another might think of as spirited debate, said Michael Jude, program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

YouTube should “define a standard that satisfies everyone,” he told TechNewsWorld, but “I don’t think that’s possible given the subjective nature of what they’re attempting to control.”

Internet Reacts

YouTube’s initial tweet in response to Maza sparked widespread outrage.

“Your policies are bullsh*t then,” tweeted Melissa Dunphy, whose handle is @mormolyke.

“Calling someone ‘Lispy sprite’ is harassment,” tweeted Julian Nader Saliani, whose handle is @salianij. “Saying ‘you’re being given a free pass as a crappy writer because you’re gay’ is harassment. Calling someone ‘Little queer’ is harassment. Calling someone ‘Mr. Gay Vox’ is harassment.”

Media stories about YouTube’s initial response on Tuesday were overwhelmingly negative.

Crowder on Monday posted what he called an apology on YouTube, but he used the video to level a broad round of insults against numerous targets, couched in disingenuous poker-faced sarcasm.

Seeing Through the Transparency Claim

YouTube “updated its policies to a simpler and more transparent system because of complaints from creators that the community guidelines strike system felt inconsistent and confusing,” CEO Susan Wojcicki said last month.

Every creator would get a one-time warning providing the opportunity to learn about YouTube’s policies before being penalized, she added.

YouTube on Wednesday tweeted that it had suspended the monetization of Crowder’s channel “because a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community and is against our YouTube Partner Program policies.”

Demonetizing Crowder’s channel “was a subjective call, likely driven by an assessment of the political situation,” Jude suggested.

“Many conservative organizations regard YouTube as being liberal and intolerant of conservative views,” he said. “Perhaps this was a way for YouTube to demonstrate that it tolerates both sides.”

Users and advertisers who object to YouTube’s approach can simply “vote with their feet,” Page 1’s Goldstein said. “Ultimately, these companies will only change if failure to change will negatively impact their financials.”

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.