“Right now it’s largely conservatives being censored… but, undoubtedly, today its conservatives and tomorrow it can be you,” PragerU’s chief marketing officer Craig Strazzeri says
Creators on YouTube are split on whether or not the demonization of Steven Crowder’s YouTube channel this week will set a new precedent for expression on the platform. Crowder, who hosts a right-leaning comedy show distributed on YouTube, had his entire channel demonetized on Wednesday for a “pattern of egregious actions” that despite not breaking any of YouTube’s policies, “harmed the broader community,” according to the Google-owned video service.
(YouTube did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
The company’s decision has widened the divide between creators who think YouTube isn’t doing enough to police extreme content on its platform and those who think the company is dismantling freedom of expression.
“We have already seen this hit creators on the left and right as well as apolitical podcasters,” said Tim Pool, a journalist who runs two political-focused YouTube channels. “As I begin to hire and expand I need to know that my business can operate without arbitrary enforcement due to public pressure.”
YouTube’s actions should send a warning that the platform is not a safe place for their business, Pool said, “not because they took action against Crowder over his speech but because the rules are vague and enforced on the whims of the internet mob.”
YouTube’s decision to stop ads from running on Crowder’s channel came after Carlos Maza, a video producer for Vox, accused Crowder of harassing him for two years in videos in which Crowder calls Maza a “Lispy Queer” and a “Gay Latino” while rebutting political videos made by Maza. Maza also criticized Crowder for selling shirts of Che Guevara with the slogan “Socialism Is for F-gs.”
“I spent years trying to ignore it because I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire,” Maza tweeted earlier this week. “Nobody at Vox has ever encouraged me to publicly mention Crowder. But two years of targeted harassment is enough. @YouTube has an explicit anti-harassment policy for a reason. What’s the holdup?”
Initially, YouTube tweeted that it wouldn’t take action against Crowder’s channel because the page did not violate YouTube’s policies despite the use of “clearly hurtful” language. The company quickly reversed its decision after waves of backlash, ultimately demonetizing the channel. YouTube said it would reinstate ad revenue as long as Crowder removes the link in his videos to his merchandise shop and fixes “all of the issues” with his channel. The company did not specify what those issues were. (Crowder and Maza did not respond to requests for comment.)
“The YouTube demonetization situation, and more broadly big tech censorship, is pushing my libertarian beliefs to their limit,” Dave Rubin, host of “The Rubin Report” on YouTube, told TheWrap. “Private companies can do what they want, but perhaps in this case, with the amount of information these companies control, and the way they control how we communicate in the modern world, we have to look at government involvement. My strong preference would be more competitors springing up and I’m working on several options on that front myself.”
Rubin isn’t the only politically focused YouTuber looking for alternative distribution options. PragerU, an American nonprofit organization that creates right-leaning videos on political topics, is also weaning its content away from the video giant and suing the company after it demonetized/restricted more than 100 videos on the PragerU YouTube page. (A YouTube rep has denied accusations of censorship and called the lawsuit “meritless.”
“The videos on PragerU.com used to be embedded from YouTube, but we have made a change to embed them from the native video player,” PragerU’s chief marketing officer Craig Strazzeri said, noting noted that, on top of demonetization, YouTube restricts many of its video from playing in schools.
“Right now it’s largely conservatives being censored… but, undoubtedly, today its conservatives and tomorrow it can be you,” Strazzeri added. “They’re going to continue to silence voices. “And if you read their new hate speech policy, it’s unbelievable the number of examples they give of what qualifies.”
In addition to a new algorithm for its recommendation engine, YouTube’s new policy states that channels that repeatedly “brush up” against its hate speech policies will be suspended from running ads on their content.
For YouTuber Anthony Fantano, who runs a YouTube page called “The Needle Drop,” the action taken against Crowder, along with the updated policy, is a welcomed change.
“We’re not just talking about offensive words here. We’re talking about pointed targeting of somebody who has been doxxed and he’s essentially getting chased down by Crowder’s fans as a result of this,” he told TheWrap. “I think the matter of hate speech on the platform and using language that targets and demeans is certainly a concern and definitely worthy of the actions YouTube has taken in terms of demonetization. He should absolutely be demonetized.”
While Crowder never told his fans to go out and harass Maza, Fantano said there is a direct connection between Crowder’s directed insults and his audience’s behavior if they decided to attack Maza on Twitter.
“Crowder’s opinions could be delivered in a mature and sensible manner. But instead he’s got to go over the fact he’s gay and he’s Latino. It’s ridiculous. For Crowder, it’s obvious that it has more to do with who he is than what he’s actually saying,” Fantano said. “Because there’s any number of leftist commentators who are advocating for the same thing as [Maza]… but he doesn’t go after any of those guys, because not only are they smarter than him, but they’re white.”
Fantano says that the validity of YouTube’s decision ultimately comes down to the company running a private platform.
“We’re muddying the waters when we are having a discussion about what’s going on on YouTube and Twitter and whether that’s a matter of free speech,” he said. “These are private platforms and they’re allowed to decide what should and should not be on its platforms. It’s not an issue of free speech.”