Steven Crowder, arguably YouTube’s most famous conservative commentator, just sparked another monetization crisis after failing to rectify hateful rhetoric charged against Vox Media host Carlos Maza. Now that YouTube has flip-flopped over its decision on the case, first suspending his revenue for hateful content, then diverting the blame to his merchandise, millions of creators and users are currently being left in the dark, worried about the platform’s uncertain future.
Earlier this week, YouTube announced an investigation was being made into Crowder’s political talk show “Louder With Crowder” after Maza published a viral twitter thread highlighting some of the derogatory language used during segments “debunking” Vox. Maza argues these comments violate the platform’s ToS policies regarding hate speech against protected classes, where punishment ranges from demonetization to channel removal.
The insults include: “lispy sprite,” “little queer,” “angry little queer,” “Mr. Gay Vox,” “Mr. Lispy queer from Vox,” “anchor baby,” “gay Mexican,” “gay Latino from Vox,” and suggesting “he could be tranny.” There’s no irony or hidden context to these comments, it’s simply Crowder using identity politics and ad hominem to poison the well of public discourse. The video and fallout can be viewed on Maza’s entire thread linked below:
Maza further demonstrates how Crowder’s work resulted in his facing “stochastic terrorism,” a relatively new term coined in 2010 describing how “the use of mass communications [can] stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable,” even when there’s no direct link between audience and platform, based on their interpretation of reckless rhetoric. This is evidenced through an image of his cellphone, which was doxxed last year, where anonymous numbers routinely messaged “debate Steven Crowder.”
This behavior does happen across the political spectrum when you consider the history. There are fringe-right outlets like InfoWars and its infamous role in pushing the PizzaGate conspiracy, which later resulted in the Comet Pizzareia Shooting. There’s also The Young Turks, a leftist network known for its anti-police rhetoric and support of Black Lives Matter, which some claim likely resulted in the murder of three officers by their apparent fan Gavin Long. The lack of reporting on the incident still makes this suspect, but you get the point.
It’s hardly a partisan talking point and depends on whether these platforms adhere to ethical messaging standards. Thus far, Crowder’s recent disavowal of such actions has been largely ignored by mainstream media outlets, mostly because he comes across as smug and insincere while holding the fate of many smaller YouTubers’ careers in the balance.
To Crowder’s credit, he’s even made a somewhat solid defence of a few terms considering Maza’s Twitter handle is literally “@GayWonk” and he calls himself a “queer creator,” which leads people to see the potential double standard at play — the classic dichotomy of restrictions against thee, but a progressive queer-pass for me.
Call it racist and homophobic rhetoric all you want, which is perfectly legitimate, there’s an imbalance over who is allowed such controversial liberty. When Maza calls for milkshaking as protest, yet condemns hateful joking words as a form of targeted violence, all the while using hateful words for his own personal, self-deprecative amusement, the enforcement inconsistency becomes suspect. It wouldn’t justify the bullying, but as Crowder pleads: “I just don’t know the rules.”
There’s no doubt a reason to say there’s an intent difference behind their usages. Crowder seeks to mock, Maza seeks to reclaim. One is harmful, the other a form of self-liberation. It’s hard to compare, but even still, Maza and his sympathetics would have to concede they’re playing a subjective game which does fly in the face of this supposed claim of wanting YouTube to have objective policy enforcement over such speech. From one lefty queer to another, the angry queer has no clothes in this regard. Apologies.
This doesn’t exonerate Crowder, by any means. Where Maza appears more hypocritical with his unfavorable speech, Crowder proves himself a deceptive liar with a more sinister agenda. For starters, his so-called message for peace with the Vox host comes across as a disingenuous “too little, too late” caveat sidelining his primary view, which is to wage a new “war” against Vox Media itself.
Don’t be surprised if, amid the fallout of his coined #VoxAdpocalypse, Crowder’s three seconds of condemnation are largely ignored for escalated audience behavior. When you make statements saying “they’re coming for you next” and prior videos are largely elusive to the best course of action, stochastic behavior fills the vacuum. Don’t call for war if you can’t set the terms of engagement and aren’t prepared for the sacrifices.
Crowder’s hostility towards the LGBTQ community is also undeniable. Aside from being an outright fundamentalist Christian, which demands an inherent supremacist preference for heterosexual culture, Crowder has used his platform to dress up in mock drag against transgenders, sell shirts reading “Socialism Is For F*gs” and proving himself pathological by claiming it simply means “figs” with absolutely no hateful connections to the gay lifestyle, while also pushing disinformative content like how he believed the AIDs crisis was a “hoax” to get further government funding — all under the guise of comedy without genuine belief. If Maza has no clothes, Crowder’s bigotry has no skin.
Maza’s thread was initially ignored by YouTube’s admins, at least until mainstream media articles, like those from The Hill and Vox’s own subsidiary The Verge, began to cover the story and some of YouTube’s creators and users began to contact the @TeamYouTube Twitter support page directly. One of these accounts included “Shaun,” a popular leftist commentator, who hilariously tricked admins into finally commenting on the issue.
After commenting about his YouTube TV supposedly not working, leading to YouTube’s standard PR response about how “we’d like to help” and “keep us posted,” Shaun immediately diverted their attention to Maza’s thread. Within an hour’s time, Maza was asked to direct message admin support. Regardless of your views on Shaun, this effective “power move” went viral in of itself and forced YouTube’s hand.
Following a week-long investigation, enduring the political theater from Crowder’s fake non-apology video highlighting his bad jokes to Maza’s virtue signalling on how the site should be a “queer platform,” YouTube finally released a verdict… which managed to confuse everybody and pleased nobody. In a brief thread on Twitter, it was determined that Crowder has exercised “a pattern of egregious actions” which has “harmed the broader community,” declaring Crowder will no longer be able to monetize any of his videos, though the channel and the cited videos won’t be removed as they “don’t violate our [content] policies” but violate the YouTube Partner Policies.
This restriction, which reportedly hasn’t taken effect, is hardly permanent either. When Maza questioned YouTube on its status quo approach, noting that “any political content gets demonetized” and the income from selling merchandise with hateful slogans like the “Socialism Is For F*gs,” YouTube clarified that to restore his monetization he “will need to remove the link to his T-shirts,” according to their latest tweets. YouTube failed to note any other reason. Initially, the platform didn’t provide a public response on the case… at least until Gizmodo released their full statement without their permission.
“We have strict policies that prohibit harassment on YouTube,” the statement reads. “In the first quarter of 2019 we removed 47,443 videos and 10,623 accounts for violation of our policies on cyberbullying and harassment. We take into consideration whether the criticism is focused primarily on debating the opinions expressed or is solely malicious. We apply these policies consistently, regardless of how many views a video has.”
“In videos flagged to YouTube,” they continue, “Crowder has not instructed his viewers to harass Maza on YouTube or any other platform and the main point of these videos was not to harass or threaten, but rather to respond to the opinion. There is certain behavior that is never ok: that includes encouraging viewers to harass others online and offline, or revealing nonpublic personal information (doxxing). None of Maza’s personal information was ever revealed in content uploaded by Crowder and flagged to our teams for review.”
Maza, however, claims whether the charged language against him was primary, second or last, is irrelevant, citing a policy quote that reads:
“Content [is prohibited] on YouTube if… it is 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. This policy applies to videos, video descriptions, comments, live streams, and any other YouTube product or feature.”
In a sense, YouTube can blindly define any engagement with users outside the bounds of positivity as harassment, but it simply chooses when to adhere to their principles and which cases are subjectively legitimate over others. It can define harassment, from aggressive pressure or intimidation which invades the personal space to engagement across the public space, based on anything deemed remotely “negative” regardless of substance or protected classes. Subjectivity can be a blessing and a curse, allowing YouTube flexibility to decide judgement, but YouTube would have to admit it’s based entirely on relative feeling at any given moment, which could be unethical.
It makes you wonder if the YouTube lawyers were the ones who wrote such policies or whether their contract bloggers had this thrown on their desk. To YouTube’s credit, it’s tried limiting its scope with new guidelines direct and on paper, though it maintains the inherent problems of unaccountability and ever-changing rules on a dime. If Maza is sincere about simply wanting YouTube to just “enforce its policies,” what’s missing is a discussion on what the policies actually are and why they changed not even a week after being called out for them.
Good luck getting YouTube to address these policies directly while it’s behind the scenes drafting new ones. These new rules, which include the curtailing of “supremacist views” which are “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status”, are consistent with prior policy, but continued weasel words about targeting those who “repeatedly brush up against our hate speech policies,” regardless of intent, status or a means to offer rebuttal, show YouTube is casting such a dangerously wide net because of the ocean their platform has become.
It’s perfectly fine for rules to be made swiftly, to consider Karl Popper’s famous “Paradox Of Tolerance,” a known philosophical conundrum where “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance,” but without some institutional reforms, from breaking up the platform to a more ethically democratic guideline drafting process, YouTube will forever leave its enforcement up to chance that one admin will provide justice where another wouldn’t. At the end of the day, YouTube has capitalistic freedom — where hatred can be freely spewed, where censorious types can demand content and revenue removed from either side and YouTube runs out the back door with the bag.
Ultimately, Maza and Crowder both drew the short straw and only seem to be complaining based on their fundamental vested interests — from personal retribution being used to sell a progressive orthodoxy onto YouTube’s system to the simple grift of selling shitty mugs and shirts for those reactionary dollars while pushing a bigoted ideology untenable for modern platforms — all the while never considering YouTube’s power as judge, jury and economic executioner more broadly.
Instead of considering why YouTube keeps up the flawed enforcement racket or how creators will be harmed in the process, people seem content to simply frame the discussion as “bias” towards their demonized political/cultural bent. As fundamentally about “winning.” There is certainly bias at play, though it’s more an example of an economic free-for-all covered in a smokescreen rather than the simple left-right team dichotomy spanning centuries. If we’re ever going to reform YouTube as a place for all creators, we need to actually establish the rules before we even think about enforcing our perceived versions of them.