Despite saying publicly Tuesday that right-wing personality Steven Crowder’s bullying of a gay Latino in YouTube videos didn’t violate the platform’s policies, YouTube turned around Wednesday and banned Crowder from selling ads against his videos — because his statements violated the platform’s policies.
The chaotic, whiplash-inducing response from YouTube — owned by Google, worth billions of dollars, and run by leaders in the tech industry — came nearly six days after Vox journalist Carlos Maza flagged the harassment to the platform. (The harassment campaign against Maza led by Crowder has been going on for years.)
The reversal also came just hours after YouTube published a blog post detailing plans to crack down on inappropriate content — promoting discrimination or segregation based on things like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation, and veteran status — on the platform, a move Crowder referred to on Twitter as “the second Adpocalypse.”
YouTube’s at-times confounding public statements on the controversy drew intense criticism and showed how the major social tech platforms struggle to identify and enforce what speech is permissible, and what is not, and how to develop policies around it all.
In a series of controversial videos, Crowder made racist and anti-gay comments about Maza. Maza flagged Crowder’s videos to YouTube on May 30.
The platform responded about five days later, on June 4, to say the content was hurtful, but didn’t violate its policy because Maza is a public figure.
Then, on June 5, YouTube appeared to change course, tweeting that Crowder’s ability to sell ads was being suspended due to a “pattern of egregious actions” that have “harmed the broader community.”
And in a particularly surreal moment, it appeared as though YouTube reversed its reversal, saying the only issue it has about Crowder harassing Maza was Crowder selling T-shirts.
YouTube said one of the things Crowder would have to do in order to reverse the demonetization is remove the link to the website where he sells merchandise with offensive slogans.
Which led to fresh backlash. About 30 minutes later, YouTube clarified that Crowder was being demonetized because of “continued egregious actions that have harmed the broader community.”
The company expanded on the tweet in a statement posted Wednesday night saying Crowder will need to address all issues on the channel, including videos that violate YouTube's policies.
The reversal follows public outcry from a group of Google employee activists, who tweeted Wednesday “We have #NoPrideInYT.”
People using the #NoPrideInYT hashtag on Twitter also threatened to boycott YouTube and criticized the company for publicly celebrating Pride Month while also defending the offensive videos. Two sources familiar with the dialogue inside Google said employees are currently circulating a petition demanding that management remove pride branding from its public social media accounts in the wake of the uproar over Crowder’s videos.
Maza, host of Vox’s Strikethrough, tweeted his ongoing dissatisfaction with YouTube’s decision to allow his videos to remain online, saying demonetization would have no impact on Crowder’s ability to make money by selling merchandise featuring offensive slogans about Maza.
Asked whether YouTube has any plans to delete Crowder’s channel altogether, the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, as YouTube flip-flopped on policy, some Google employees expressed their frustration internally, and discussed potential protests of the decision to allow Crowder’s content to remain. One current Google employee who spoke with BuzzFeed News anonymously said employees are “asking why we [LGBT people] still don’t have a seat at the table when decisions like this are made.”