YouTube, the largest video platform in the world, has a priorities problem. As the Google-owned monopoly announces the drafting of new policies to prevent “creator-on-creator harassment”, administrative faux-transparency can’t seem to escape the platform’s business model that ultimately pits its corporate profits against its grassroots community.
In the fallout of #VoxApocalypse, an incident where conservative commentator Steven Crowder indirectly incited his fans to harass Vox contributor Carlos Maza, several unrelated creators faced the brunt of demonetization and removal as a result, from reactionary conspiracy theorist Black Pigeon Speaks (who was temporarily removed and reinstated without reason) to secular progressive pundit David Pakman (also frequently demonetized and censored by corporate media, as we’ll further discuss). The platform’s game of selective policy enforcement has come into question.
The policy was revealed in a statement from Neal Mohan, Youtube’s chief product officer, who briefly spoke about the issue at YouTube’s VidCon keynote a few weeks back. Although YouTube considers these new yet unspecified policies to be “just as important to the YouTube community as any product launch”, this is the first time the platform has directly mentioned harassment since the original scandal broke. In turn, I decided to ask questions about their silence.
On Saturday, I posted three separate tweets asking YouTube’s highly used customer service account for help. If you check the page right now, it frequently replies to users regarding their payment processing, site functionality, channel removal, demonetization, etc. Surely the best place to get a response — at least according to what their tweets always imply. Each tweet reported a simple issue, one regarding harassment, another glitches with my paid subscriptions, and the other the purchase of all five seasons of the television show “Daria” for around $100, which I said wasn’t working.
None of my claims were true, of course. I simply emulated a social media trick from Shaun, a YouTube creator who baited the platform into responding to the #VoxAdocalypse scandal when it was on-going. The bait and switch being when you give a comment on an unrelated issue, wait for YouTube to respond and divert their attention to the real issue.
I wondered, would YouTube’s page answer a claim of harassment and potential suicide directly? Would they answer the others posted a minute later instead? Would they do a basic scroll and ignore me? How explicitly would they signal their priorities? It turns out that instead of just ignoring my claims completely, which would be easy given these claims were immediately one after the other, YouTube’s always responsive account only played quiet on the harassment issue.
Our interactions were selective, immediately giving me links to their Premium support page, assurances they’ll “take it from there” when payments come through and even replying to my friends randomly asking about their TV not working — within the same harassment thread, keep in mind — fixing their fake issue while never responding to the actual post. The silence got so bad, I first got a response from Bitchute, an anti-big tech independent online video competitor and a platform who I never contacted, who provided me with a link to YouTube’s harassment page before YouTube.
From this, I found that YouTube’s Report Abuse section, which does allow for direct claims to be made by users, is layered under a hidden splash page that’s a blip within YouTube’s overly complicated and indirect Help Centre. After another search, I found the support page I was replying to hasn’t actually responded to any harassment requests since June 6th, almost two full months since the scandal broke.
If I was sincerely needing help, YouTube would continue its months-long silent treatment, even in the implied event of death, before addressing an issue that’s potentially profitable. Conclusively, we should consider whether varying types of YouTube harassment are more so a feature of the medium rather than a bug. Given their bots or admin team replied to selective post after several demands for comment, following a record of enabling corporate and individual cases of overreach, this is hardly an unfounded assumption.
After all, it’s not unlike YouTube, a fundamentally for-profit venture, to bend its rules and enforcement for the sake of good business over democratic argumentation. Pakman, the goodie-two-shoes of the progressive movement, later revealed his show has been subjected to direct manual copyright strike for his fair-use commentary on the CNN debates covering the Democratic Primary, as well as a 90 day ban from live streaming. This wasn’t some accident where the bots capture overlap of footage and audio and just assume the content is a copy. No, this was a direct case among many others where corporate media is harassing several commentators, commentators who are playing by the rules of fair use, and YouTube is allowing it in order to hold onto good business relationships.
This attitude is evidenced in several tweets from CNN’s Matt Dornic, the Vice President of the Communications Team, who falsely accused Pakman of pirating their debate worth “millions and millions” after the strike was invoked without warning. This is completely in line with previous stories we have covered concerning Alphabet, such as Google’s $300M news initiative which subsidizes “authoritative news sources” to discredit “fake news” during the upcoming elections. Many of the “authoritative news sources” included were left unspecified, but don’t be surprised if “the most trusted name in news” is among their ranks.
It’s time we admit this is just the conduct of YouTube as a platform.
It can pick its winners and losers, operating under implied rights and due process, which in turn trickles down to the conduct of commentators like Crowder who try similar bully tactics yet face demonetization, though still leaves profits in the hands of Google. The platform doesn’t tread lightly when it comes to quick enforcement and reinstatements, and it’s doubtful that's going to change when the platform thrives on monetized conflict, whether obscure or mainstream.
“There’s a spectrum on YouTube between the calm section, the Walter Cronkite, Carl Sagan part, and Crazytown, where the extreme stuff is,” said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. “If I’m YouTube and I want you to watch more, I’m always going to steer you toward Crazytown.” Without some institutional reforms, from breaking up the platform to a more ethically democratic guideline drafting process, which requires more admins and principles than YouTube would ever freely conduct, the platform will forever leave its enforcement up to chance and its harassment business within the conference rooms of its elites.