YouTube Takes Next Steps to Enforce Harassment Policies

YouTube has written guidelines to flag videos and comments that insult or demean others over race, gender or sexual orientation directed at anyone including private individuals, public officials and YouTube creators. The company will rely on “raters” to screen videos that have been flagged. YouTube earlier introduced policies to restrict exploitation of children, extremist content and hate speech, but those policies were scrutinized in June when a volatile situation arose between a commentator and a journalist.

The New York Times reports that, “YouTube eventually decided that the conservative commentator, Steven Crowder, who has more than four million subscribers on the service, had broken its rules by using slurs about the Cuban-American ethnicity and sexual orientation of Carlos Maza, a video journalist.” YouTube suspended Crowder’s ability to sell ads on his video and he “is still not allowed to participate in that money-sharing program.”

According to YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan, this incident helped inform the company, which had started to review its policies in April, on how to change its rules. More specifically, the new policy expanded “its definition of harassment — which has covered making explicit threats, inciting people to harass someone else and revealing confidential personal information — to include implied or veiled threats.”

Even if no one video violates the policy, YouTube can punish a channel if it “finds a pattern over multiple videos or comments,” or if channels “repeatedly brush up against our harassment policy.”

But, added Mohan, “enforcing the policy will be challenging … [because] YouTube does not want to stifle debate, disagreement or legitimate criticism of public officials.” “There’s a lot of nuance and context that’s important here, but it is really something we want to get right on our platform,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a place where individuals are harassed. We want to take a clear line about that.” He added that, “unchecked harassment could curtail discussion if people were too intimidated to speak.”

Vox reports that YouTube’s policy changes “are incremental and will largely depend on execution rather than policy.” “If, going forward, YouTube does take down more content that meets a broader definition of harassment, it will undoubtedly provoke controversy, particularly at a time when the company continues to face pressure from Republican leaders such as President Donald Trump over claims that the video platform censors conservative speech.”