YouTube decides that homophobic harassment does not violate its policies

YouTube has at last formally responded to an explosive and controversial feud between Vox writer and video host Carlos Maza and conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder. The verdict: YouTube says Crowder did not violate any of its policies, and that Crowder’s YouTube channel will stay up, despite his repeated homophobic slurs directed at Maza in videos posted to YouTube.

(Disclosure: Vox is a publication of Vox Media, which also owns The Verge.)

Crowder has routinely, over the course of years, made derogatory and mocking remarks about Maza’s sexuality and ethnicity when making videos attempting to debunk the Vox video series Strikethrough. Crowder also sells a T-shirt on his website, an image of which is also his featured Twitter banner photo, that features a homophobic slur with one letter omitted. Crowder supporters have since fashioned a version of the t-shirt specifically targeting Maza.

The statements, which Crowder likened to jokes and called “harmless ribbing” in a response video earlier this week, were highlighted in a series of now-viral tweets from Maza posted late last week, leading to immense pressure on YouTube to respond. The company eventually said it would look into the matter.

However, after days of silence, the company now says it doesn’t think homophobic and racist slurs, including Crowder calling Maza a “lispy queer” and a “gay Mexican,” qualify as harassment. Notably, the company did not mention the phrase “hate speech,” indicating it does not seem to classify Crowder’s homophobic mockery as such.

“Our teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the videos flagged to us, and while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies,” reads a tweet published this evening from the official @TeamYouTube Twitter account and posted as a reply to Maza’s original tweet highlighting Crowder’s abuse.

“As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone–from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts–to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies,” read followup tweets from YouTube, adding that “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”

YouTube made sure to clarify in one final follow-up tweet that “even if a video remains on our site, it doesn’t mean we endorse/support that viewpoint.” The company says it’s “still evaluating” Crowder’s channel for other violations, although it’s not clear what aspect of the investigation is still pending.

Notably, YouTube did not say who on its teams conducted this “in-depth review,” how many people were on those teams, what content they reviewed, how they applied YouTube’s policies and rules to evaluating that content, and if this decision was made unanimously by those teams or approved up a chain of command.

Instead, the company chose to reply to Maza on Twitter.

In response, Maza said he was stunned by YouTube’s verdict. On Twitter, he wrote, “I don’t know what to say. @YouTube has decided not to punish Crowder, after he spent two years harassing me for being gay and Latino. I don’t know what to say.” Maza went on to say, “To be crystal clear: @YouTube has decided that targeted racist and homophobic harassment does not violate its policies against hate speech or harassment. That’s an absolutely batshit policy that gives bigots free license.”

He also pointed out the hypocrisy of YouTube celebrating LGBT Pride Month by changing its Twitter avatar photos to ones referencing the rainbow flag and promoting a YouTube-financed original documentary called State of Pride.

Google and YouTube both have numerous policies regarding harassment, bullying, and hate speech. As private companies, they also retain the right to suspend or ban users for violating these policies, using its three-strike system:

  • YouTube’s hate speech guidelines state that “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on any of the following attributes” including “sexual orientation.”
  • YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policy guidelines states “Content or behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others is not allowed on YouTube.”
  • YouTube further specifically prohibits “content that is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone,” “content that makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person,” and “content that incites others to harass or threaten individuals on or off YouTube.”

Maza says since Crowder began targeting his Strikethrough series and including homophobic and racist slurs in his commentary that he’s been subject to innumerable personal attacks on Instagram, Twitter, and other personal online channels. He was also doxxed, with his phone number posted online, and his texts flooded with messages to “debate steven crowder.”

In the past week, Maza says he’s experienced extreme harassment for even speaking out about Crowder’s harassment. Just yesterday, Maza was doxxed again on the far-right message board 8chan.

Maza acknowledged that he would likely face an intense wave of harassment regardless of YouTube’s response, and likely even more in the event it decided to take action against Crowder.

YouTube has not responded to multiple requests for comment on how Crowder’s videos do not violate its harassment or cyberbullying policies. The company was not immediately available for comment regarding how it conduced its investigation into Crowder’s channel, or which employees were involved.

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