For two years, Vox Media’s Carlos Maza has been the target of homophobic and racist abuse from a right-wing YouTuber with three million subscribers. On Tuesday, the online video giant informed Maza that the abuse does not violate its policies.
The decision, laid out by YouTube in four succinct tweets, means the platform will permit Steve Crowder to continue his harassment and bullying of Maza. YouTube and Crowder are also set to continue monetizing the abusive videos, which feature ads from the likes of the Trump campaign, VH-1 and Monday.com
Last week, Maza called out the abuse in a supercut of comments Crowder has made on his popular YouTube channel in the last two years. They include: “lispy sprite,” “little queer,” “Mr. Gay Vox,” “Mr. Lispy queer from Vox,” “an angry little queer,” “gay Mexican,” and “gay Latino from Vox.”
Crowder fans responded by directing more abuse at Maza on other platforms, including Instagram and Twitter. They also posted his cell phone number online, leading to a flood of text messages demanding he ”debate steven crowder.”
“It makes life sort of miserable. I waste a lot of time blocking abusive Crowder fanboys, and this shit derails your mental health,” Maza said.
On Tuesday, YouTube, which is owned by Google, finally responded.
“Our teams spent the last few days conducting an in-depth review of the videos flagged to us, and while we found language that was clearly hurtful, the videos as posted don’t violate our policies,” the company tweeted to Maza.
“As an open platform, it’s crucial for us to allow everyone — from creators to journalists to late-night TV hosts — to express their opinions w/in the scope of our policies,” the company added. “Opinions can be deeply offensive, but if they don’t violate our policies, they’ll remain on our site.”
The decision left Maza at a loss: “YouTube has decided not to punish Crowder after he spent two years harassing me for being gay and Latino. I don’t know what to say.”
Maza and others pointed out the hypocrisy of the company changing its logo to celebrate Pride month.
“YouTube knows that what they’re doing is shitty policy, and that it’s going to subject LGBT people to more abuse," Maza told VICE News. "They really, really don’t care. Because anti-LGBT bullying is good for ‘engagement,’ and YouTube thinks it can keep getting away with flying the Pride flag while empowering the monsters who keep LGBT people afraid to come out.”
YouTube’s own policies forbid hate speech, which it defines as “content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on things like race, sexuality, nationality and immigration status.
In the video Maza posted last week, Crowder repeatedly uses a caricatured “gay” voice to mock the writer. YouTube’s policies explicitly forbid the use of stereotypes that incite or promote hatred as well as “behavior intended to maliciously harass, threaten, or bully others,” including content that “is deliberately posted in order to humiliate someone," or “makes hurtful and negative personal comments/videos about another person.”
When asked why Crowder’s comments and actions didn’t breach these policies, YouTube simply pointed back to its comments on Twitter.
YouTube’s decision has been widely criticized by the LGBT community.
"I genuinely can't imagine what LGBT employees at YouTube are doing right now.”
“Steven Crowder’s abusive comments are just one example of how much work is still left to do to combat discrimination and the use of hateful language against lesbian, gay, bi and trans people,” Jeff Ingold, from Stonewall, a U.K.-based LGBT rights group, told VICE News. “It’s deeply concerning that views like this are being given a platform and we urge YouTube to rethink its approach and consider the damage this content can cause to LGBT people.”
Crowder has defended his actions on his own channel, describing the language he used as “friendly ribbing.”
“Did I ever offhandedly use the term ‘lispy queer’? I really don’t remember it, but it sounds like me. Why? Because you speak with a lisp and you refer to yourself as a queer... It’s funny and this is a comedy show,” Crowder said.
This is just the latest example of YouTube and its parent company Google, struggling to deal with the volume of content on its platform, allowing hate speech and extremist views to flourish. Just this week, researchers said that YouTube’s recommendation algorithm made it easier for pedophiles to find videos of prepubescent children.
Maza’s employer has called on YouTube to do more to protect its LGBT users.
“By tacitly looking the other way, it encourages this behavior and contributes to a society more divided and more radicalized,” Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell said in a statement. “YouTube must do better and must enforce their own policies and remove creators who promote hate.”
Maza believes YouTube’s decision will only make attacks on the LGBT community more frequent:
“It's going to get so much worse now,” Maza tweeted. “YouTube has publicly stated that racist and homophobic abuse doesn't violate their anti-bullying policies. Crowder and his allies are going to be emboldened. I genuinely can't imagine what LGBT employees at YouTube are doing right now.”
Cover: 15 March 2019, Schleswig-Holstein, Aukrug-Homfeld: ILLUSTRATION - A smartphone is held in front of the logo of the Internet platform YouTube. Photo by: Carsten Rehder/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images