In the four days since I wrote How Google’s YouTube Spreads Hate, where I discussed both how much I enjoyed and respected YouTube, and how unacceptable their handling of hate speech has become, a boycott by advertisers of YouTube and Google ad networks has been spreading rapidly, with some of the biggest advertisers on the planet pulling their ads over concerns about being associated with videos containing hate speech, extremist, or related content.
It’s turned into a big news story around the globe, and has certainly gotten Google’s attention.
Google has announced some changes and apparently more are in the pipeline, so far relating mostly to making it easier for advertisers to avoid having their ads appear with those sorts of content.
But let’s be very clear about this. Most of that content, much of which is on long-established YouTube channels sometimes with vast numbers of views, shouldn’t be permitted to monetize at all. And in many cases, shouldn’t be permitted on YouTube at all (by the way, it’s a common ploy for YT uploaders to ask for support via third-party sites as a mechanism to evade YT monetization disablement).
The YouTube page regarding hate speech is utterly explicit:
We encourage free speech and try to defend your right to express unpopular points of view, but we don’t permit hate speech.
Hate speech refers to content that promotes violence or hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes, such as:
race or ethnic origin
sexual orientation/gender identity
There is a fine line between what is and what is not considered to be hate speech. For instance, it is generally okay to criticize a nation-state, but not okay to post malicious hateful comments about a group of people solely based on their ethnicity.
Seems pretty clear. But in fact, YouTube is awash with racist, antisemitic, and a vast array of other videos that without question violate these terms, many on established, cross-linked YouTube channels containing nothing but such materials.
How easy is it to stumble into such garbage?
Well, for me here in the USA, the top organic (non-ad) YouTube search result for “blacks” is a video showing a car being wrecked with the title: “How Savage Are Blacks In America & Why Is Everyone Afraid To Discuss It?” — including the description “ban niggaz not guns” — and also featuring a plea to donate to a racist external site.
This video has been on YouTube for over a year and has accumulated over 1.5 million views. Hardly hiding.
While it can certainly can be legitimately argued that there are many gray areas when it comes to speech, on YouTube there are seemingly endless lists of videos that are trivially located and clearly racist, antisemitic, or in violation of YouTube hate speech terms in other ways.
And YouTube helps you find even more of them! On the right-hand suggestion panel right now for the video I mentioned above, there’s a whole list of additional racist videos, including titles like: “Why Are So Many Of U Broke, Black, B!tches Begging If They Are So Strong & Independent?” — and much worse.
Google’s proper course is clear. They must strongly enforce their own Terms of Service. It’s not enough to provide control over ads, or even ending those ads entirely. Videos and channels that are in obvious violation of the YT TOS must be removed.
We have crossed the Rubicon in terms of the Internet’s impact on society, and laissez-faire attitudes toward hate speech content are now intolerable. The world is becoming saturated in escalating hate speech and related attacks, and even tacit acceptance of these horrors — whether spread on YouTube or by the Trump White House — must be roundly and soundly condemned.
Google is a great company with great people. Now they need to grasp the nettle and do the right thing.