June 12, 2019

YouTube's Crowder Controversy

Last week, Vox journalist Carlos Maza accused conservative comedian Steven Crowder of harassing him on YouTube. YouTube initially determined that Crowder had not violated any policies. However, it then reversed course and demonetized Crowder’s channel, preventing him from receiving ad revenue but leaving his content online. Twitter, Business Insider

See past issues

From the Left

The left urges YouTube and other tech companies to increase transparency, host public forums, and develop better policies.

Some argue, “If the repeated harassment in these videos doesn’t cross the line by YouTube’s standards, then your line needs to be moved. Without a serious change to YouTube’s interpretation of its standards, Crowder is free to continue to make videos where he hurls slurs at journalists and creators, who will then keep getting hit with the same sort of harassment, invective, and dangerous leaking of personal information that Carlos has continued to experience from Crowder’s fans.”
Lauren Williams and Joe Posner, Vox

“If you engage your right to say what you want, you’d better be prepared to face the consequences of that. If you refer to a gay guest as a ‘lispy queer,’ as Crowder did on his podcast, you’d better be prepared to be held accountable by people who are offended, including the corporate executives who allow Crowder to present such remarks on their platform… if you want to blurt homophobic smears, white power agitprop or ludicrous conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook massacre, create your own platform and knock yourself out. Until then, don’t act bewildered or run crying to the president when you’re booted off a platform you neither own nor control.”
Bob Cesca, Salon

Others contend that “Crowder is a comic, doing exactly what comics do: Mocking a public figure… He didn't claim that heterosexual white guys are inherently superior to Latino homosexuals (although I would not be surprised if he believes it). He didn't dox Maza (who is actually of Cuban, not Mexican, descent) himself or even ask his fans to it for him. He didn't call for violence or harassment or issue any threats. He didn't even lie about him. He made fun of the guy. That's it… There's nothing illegal about that, and if YouTube does reverse its decision and start to ban everyone who mocks people for their sexuality or race, they're going to have to ban a whole lot of queer people of color who enjoy making fun of straight white dudes next. That's not a precedent I'd like to see set.”
Katie Herzog, The Stranger

“The problem for YouTube is that for rules to be taken seriously by the people they govern, they need to be applied consistently and clearly. And YouTube has done a very bad job of that. Crowder’s behavior was okay, until 12 hours later it wasn’t; Alex Jones was okay, until he wasn’t; clips of feminists being beaten up in a video game were okay, then they weren’t, then they were again. The company has a habit of tacking between empty, tedious literalism and broad, sweeping judgment as it moves back and forth in its moderation decisions.”
Max Read, New York Magazine

“The primary principle guiding YouTube in these cases appears to have been the imperative to avoid making very many people very angry very publicly… YouTube could have said from the outset this week that its commitment to providing a forum for public figures to argue with each other over political topics outweighed its commitment to preventing cruelty or protecting the marginalized, if that’s what it believes. It could have said the opposite. Or it could have said that the doxxing and other attacks Maza was suffering from Crowder’s followers made the balancing act moot, because any content that leads to real-world harm is unacceptable…

“Instead of dispensing a bunch of unsigned tweets full of byzantine reversals, YouTube also could have told us how it was coming to its decision. Better yet, it could establish a transparent process, like the sort of oversight board Facebook is crafting, untethered to profits or stock price. Platforms need to do the work and show their work — show not only that they have rules but also that those rules are built on a foundation of principle and that the principle is more meaningful than just trying to avoid making people angry on the Internet.”
Molly Roberts, Washington Post

“Hosting and delivering information means, inevitably, making choices about how and why to do so — through the design itself and the policies imposed. It is only a question of what the rules should be, how they are enforced and — I think this is important — who should make them… platforms [should] make space for that debate to occur, publicly and among its users, and then enforce the conclusions they reach. It should matter what Maza thinks, what Crowder thinks, what I think and what all of us think — more so than what YouTube thinks.”
Henry Farrell, Washington Post

Some say, “Bring back the golden age of broadcast regulation… In today’s terms, that might mean actual rules against broadcasting hate speech that is sure to reach a large audience—like a channel that has more than a certain large number of subscribers… It could mean an obligation to regularly report on efforts to purge viral misinformation or regular reporting on removing foreign and domestic actors who create fake accounts intended to meddle in electoral politics. It could mean clear requirements for handling user data responsibly or not allowing ads that lead to discrimination, like in housing and employment…

“Corporations that want to make as much money as possible will always prioritize profits above all else. Protecting the safety of their users will always come second. That’s where laws are supposed to come in. It’s time we got some.”
April Glaser, Slate

Others think that “regulation on the basis of speech is bound to be a disaster — and probably unconstitutional to boot. And the people who are currently in power aren’t just weirdly comfortable with white nationalism, there’s a strong antipathy toward journalism and free speech. It would be a self-own to give the government more power over speech. My ‘hope’ here is that breaking up Google and YouTube would do a lot to stem the network effects from being the only game in town.”
Charlie Warzel and Sarah Jeong, New York Times

From the Right

The right believes YouTube was wrong to demonetize Crowder and that tech companies discriminate against conservatives, but cautions against government intervention.

The right believes YouTube was wrong to demonetize Crowder and that tech companies discriminate against conservatives, but cautions against government intervention.

“Steven Crowder’s mocking Carlos Maza as a ‘lisping queer’ is ugly and stupid. It is not violence, near to violence, or even rhetorically violent. And the protestations of Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow technology titans notwithstanding, suppressing that kind of speech has nothing to do with ‘public safety.’ It has to do with Carlos Maza’s stated desire to ‘humiliate’ and, if possible, to silence those who see the world in a different way. That Google and Twitter and Facebook and other companies choose to make themselves a party to that is shameful, and a disservice to democratic discourse.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

“Given [that] Crowder is a comedian, you would figure that mocking is a regular part of his shtick—and given [that] there are so-called ‘mainstream’ comedians who have said a whole lot worse about other people (I’m looking at you, Samatha Bee and Stephen Coal-bert), why some Vox writer getting his Underoos in a bunch would warrant such drastic action from YouTube would seem to be a mystery. That is, until you consider that the likes of Bee and Coal-bert are avowed liberals, whereas Crowder is a conservative.”
Marc Giller, The Resurgent

“There are many who might say they are fans of comedy, but can’t supportoffensive comedy. I understand the desire to live in a society where no one is ever made uncomfortable. But as with all attempts to create utopia, trying to weed out offensive material will do far more harm than good. In an effort to crack down on what it deems to be hate speech posted on its website, YouTube has also been deleting educational and historical videos on Nazism. This isn’t merely a flaw in YouTube’s processes—it is simply impossible to create an objective standard for offensive speech

“When people are banned from speaking publicly, we miss out on new ideas, and we lose the ability to debate bad ideas. We thus stagnate into the status quo of whatever is considered acceptable at the time. Whether the fear of speaking out stems from government censorship or actions from private citizens, the stagnation occurs all the same. Like them or not, it is those who have been willing to step outside the bounds of acceptable language who have been able to push important conversations into new territory.”
Eric Cervone, Townhall

“As a private company YouTube has the right to choose which content it hosts. But YouTube also has a moral and social responsibility to the maximal exchange of information and ideas. History tells us that it is a bad idea to censor ideas most of us consider bad, Nazis included… In preventing viewers from witnessing the evil absurdities of neo-Nazi videos, YouTube will also obstruct those who know little about the Nazis from knowing why Nazism is so bad. Remember, the source of Nazi power is the ability of its agents to present its immorality as a cause of necessary virtue. The best weapon against that effort is maximal public debate of Nazism. Its nature, unveiled, is rightly repellent to most.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

In a similar vein, “conservatives should think twice before endorsing government policing of speech online. They won’t like the rules they get and will regret selling out their principles to get them… Letting the government patrol content has never been a boon for conservative voices. The Federal Communications Commission’s defunct 1949 Fairness Doctrine, required broadcast license holders to align their content with what FCC regulators deemed honest, equitable, and balanced. In practice, the doctrine resulted in the stifling of speech deemed controversial because of the threat of federal investigations and fines…

“Need further proof that government regulation of speech on social media is a bad idea? Behold Mark Zuckerberg’s written request for it in a March Washington Post op-ed: ‘Regulation could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.’ Zuckerberg calling for regulation? Isn’t regulation big business’ worst fear? Not when you’re the market leader like Facebook is right now. With a $478 billion market cap, Facebook will have a seat at the table when the regulations are crafted and can afford compliance costs. Not so for the next, yet-to-be-created, social media competitor.”
Jessica Melugin, Fox News

“Conservatives have to engage two audiences, first and most directly the small audience of men and women who hold the levers of corporate power. Do not presume bad faith. Do not presume that every key executive in every social-media company has closed his or her mind… At the same time, conservatives need to reach the very large audience of indifferent Americans who either don’t see the problem with demonetizing a comedian they don’t know or don’t fear the slippery slope enough to take any meaningful action. This is the longtime challenge of the free-speech advocate, to convince people to care about free speech even when the relevant speaker says words they don’t like. This is an old problem, but free-speech advocates have won that argument for a very long time. They can win it again.”
David French, National Review

Some, however, note that “Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act explicitly states that ‘interactive computer services’ are not publishers (so, unlike newspapers, they can’t be held responsible for bad stuff that appears on their platforms)… Yet Section 230 (a)(3) explicitly assumed that online platforms would ‘offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse’… The network platforms handle far too much content to be effective publishers. They are entitled to Section 230’s protection — but only if they uphold the diversity of discourse envisaged by Congress. The alternative is to repeal Section 230 and impose on big tech something like a First Amendment obligation not to limit free speech.”
Niall Ferguson, Boston Globe

You could win $1,000 by switching to a flip phone like Warren Buffett for a week.


Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.