“This is an important and long-overdue change,” Becca Lewis, a research affiliate at the nonprofit organization Data & Society, said about the new policy. “However, YouTube has often executed its community guidelines unevenly, so it remains to be seen how effective these updates will be.”
YouTube’s scale — more than 500 hours of new videos are uploaded every minute — has made it difficult for the company to track rule violations. And the company’s historically lax approach to moderating extreme videos has led to a drumbeat of scandals, including accusations that the site has promoted disturbing videos to children and allowed extremist groups to organize on its platform. YouTube’s automated advertising system has paired offensive videos with ads from major corporations, prompting several advertisers to abandon the site.
The kind of content that will be prohibited under YouTube’s new hate speech policies include videos that claim Jews secretly control the world, those that say women are intellectually inferior to men and therefore should be denied certain rights, or that suggest that the white race is superior to another race, a YouTube spokesman said.
Channels that post some hateful content, but that do not violate YouTube’s rules with the majority of their videos, may receive strikes under YouTube’s three-strike enforcement system, but would not be immediately banned.
The company also said that channels that “repeatedly brush up against our hate speech policies,” but don’t violate them outright, would be removed from YouTube’s advertising program, which allows channel owners to share in the advertising revenue their videos generate.
In addition to tightening its hate speech rules, YouTube announced it would also tweak its recommendation algorithm, the automated software that shows users videos based on their interests and past viewing habits. This algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of overall time spent on YouTube, and has been a major engine for the platform’s growth. But it has also drawn accusations of leading users down rabbit holes filled with extreme and divisive content, in an attempt to keep them watching and drive up the site’s usage numbers.
“If the hate and intolerance and supremacy is a match, then YouTube is lighter fluid,” said Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights nonprofit Color of Change. “YouTube and other platforms have been quite slow to address the structure they’ve created to incentivize hate.”