On June 5, YouTube announced in a blog post that it will remove and prohibit hateful and supremacist content, including that which glorifies Nazis, denies the Holocaust, and promotes one group’s superiority over another. Thus far, YouTube had had a “tough” stance towards videos with supremacist content, but did not explicitly prohibit it. Earlier, to limit the distribution of such videos, the platform limited recommendations, and the ability to share and comment on them. But now, they have updated their hate speech policy “specifically prohibiting videos 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”. The platform will also prohibit content that denies the occurrence of well-documented violent events such as the Holocaust or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the US. It will gradually remove all such content from the platform, and it currently looking at ways to make it available for researchers and NGOs studying hate.

Reducing and demonitising borderline content

YouTube will also limit the spread of borderline content and harmful misinformation by limiting its recommendation. It piloted this project in January 2019 in US and will now implement it in other countries as well. Thus, videos that claim, for example, that Earth is flat will see lowered distribution. In the same vein, the platform will also bolster authoritative content to tackle misinformation. For instance, if a user watches a borderline video, YouTube’s algorithms may include videos from authoritative sources in the ‘watch next’ panel.

Channels that repeatedly put our borderline content will be suspended from the YouTube Partner programme, meaning  they won’t be able to run ads on their channel or use other monetisation features. The New York Times reported that these policies have already been implemented, while The Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer tweeted that white nationalists such as James Allsup and “The Golden One” have apparently been demonetised.

Backlash to a YouTube tweet prompted the change

YouTube has had a chequered history dealing with hate speech and misinformation and, like other tech platforms, has been accused of having a lift-wing bias. This latest policy change was ostensibly prompted by the backlash that YouTube received on Twitter when it tweeted that Steven Crowder, a conservative US commentator with nearly 4 million YouTube subscribers, had not violated YouTube’s policies despite having used racial language and homophobic slurs to harass Carlos Maza, a Vox journalist, for nearly two years. Soon after the backlash, YouTube backtracked and suspended monetisation on Crowder’s channel. Even then, YouTube reiterated in its blog that individually, Crowder’s flagged videos had not violated their community guidelines, but the “widespread harm to the YouTube community resulting from the ongoing pattern of egregious behaviour” prompted them to take this action.

YouTube’s policy change comes at a time when Silicon Valley is still struggling to contain fake news, misinformation and hate speech online. Facebook had banned Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and founder of Infowars, and six other controversial users, last month. YouTube and Twitter had banned Jones in August 2018. However, his videos continue to be  by his followers and can be easily found on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, putting into question the effectiveness of such bans.