On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee had a hearing about the rise of hate and white nationalism in the US, which the committee’s YouTube account livestreamed. For about 40 minutes, the live YouTube comment stream was filled with hate, white nationalism, and anti-semitism.
Live stream watchers made blatantly racist and anti-semitic comments that trafficked in far-right rhetoric about “white genocide,” rejecting “diversity” and “multiculturalism,” and an “Islamist invasion.”
This hateful rhetoric flooded the live comment section before the hearing live stream even began. The live chat stream was eventually disabled about 40 minutes after the live comment section began (and about 30 minutes after Motherboard reached out to YouTube about the livestream comments.) However, this was after hundreds of hateful comments were displayed directly alongside the real-time testimonies of people at the hearing.
For every dozen comments, approximately one would be automatically deleted. For instance, one commenter repeatedly made a common reference to Naziism. Those comments were deleted after being displayed for about a second. However, the vast majority of hateful comments went unmoderated and stayed up.
The behavior in the YouTube live comment section is symptomatic of the hate that plagues the internet and global societies generally. YouTube in particular has struggled to moderate content on its platform—both within videos and in comment sections. YouTube did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment, but we will update this article if we hear back.
Throughout the hearing, the comments section was filled with content that is nominally banned by YouTube’s hate speech policies, but very little of it was actually deleted.
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, opened the hearing by speaking about the rise of a white supremacism, and a “unique white identity and common purpose.” He spoke about the real-world violence that manifested in the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, and the recent shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“White nationalism and its proliferation online have real consequences,” Nadler said. “People have died because of it."
As he spoke, the live comment section was filled with anti-semitic comments about Nadler’s name.
Eileen Hershenov, the senior vice president of policy for the Anti-Defamation League, said that white nationalists were responsible for over 75 percent of domestic terrorism in 2018. She noted that niche social media platforms known for harboring extremists can act as a recruiting tool for white nationalist domestic terrorism, and operate as a de facto “round the clock digital white supremacist rallies.”
While she spoke, the comment section was filled with trolls who made references to those niche social media platforms.
Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha gave an emotional testimony about his two daughters Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha, who were murdered in a hate crime near the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus in 2015. Yusor’s husband Deah Barakat was also murdered.
“They are my children, and they are gone,” Abu-Salha said. While he spoke, the live comment section was filled with Islamophobic rhetoric.
As pointed out by Ryan Broderick from Buzzfeed News, one user was able to profit $10 by making a comment about white nationalism.
About 10 minutes after the live comment stream was disabled, Alexandria Walden—Google’s legal counsel for free expression and human rights—said that hate and white nationalism had “no place on YouTube.” However, the full truth is more complicated.
Recently, both Twitter and YouTube refused to change their policies and commit to banning white nationalism, even after Facebook changed its own policies. YouTube has also allowed Nazi propaganda to remain on its platform, even after Motherboard brought instances of this propaganda to the platform’s attention.
About 90 minutes after the live comment section was disabled, Nadler read from the Washington Post’s coverage of the behavior in the comment section.
“This just illustrates the problem that we're dealing with,” Nadler said.
Update 12:09 p.m.: This article was updated to include a comment made during the hearing by Congressperson Nadler.