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YouTube Outlaws Insults Based on Race and Sex, With Caveats

Mark Bergen
Signage is seen at a YouTube stand at the Labour Party Conference venue in Brighton, Britain, September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

(Bloomberg) -- Google’s YouTube video service expanded its definition of banned speech after months of criticism, saying it will now remove clips and comments that make “veiled or implied threats” against individuals or insult people based on attributes such as race and sexual orientation.

The new harassment guidelines are part of YouTube’s efforts to clean up its platform, which has been plagued by videos that advertisers, users and regulators find toxic.

Read more: YouTube Managers Ignored Warnings, Let Toxic Videos Run Rampant

In June, journalist and YouTube creator Carlos Maza publicly accused Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian, of repeatedly harassing him with homophobic remarks on YouTube. The company said Crowder’s videos didn’t violate its policies and didn’t remove them. Employees at Google protested the decision. YouTube responded by pulling ads from Crowder’s videos, sparking accusations of bias from some politicians.

“We will no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes such as their race, gender expression, or sexual orientation,” Matt Halprin, YouTube’s head of trust and safety, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “This applies to everyone, from private individuals, to YouTube creators, to public officials.”

Videos that “repeatedly brush up against” YouTube’s policies may be removed from its advertising program, Halprin added. This means that the controversial Crowder videos would now be considered a violation of YouTube’s policies, a company spokesman said.

But there are exceptions. YouTube said videos that include harassment language in certain contexts, such as a documentary or a scripted satire, will not be removed. Neither will clips featuring or discussing powerful people “like high-profile government officials or CEOs of major multinational corporations.” YouTube will decide when videos meet these exceptions or not.

Maza said he was skeptical of the new policy after it was announced on Wednesday. YouTube’s prior rules around harassment already covered protected groups and people, Maza said, but the company hasn’t be able to police content across its sprawling site. “The issue has never been the scope and language of the policy. The problem was with enforcement,” he said by phone. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Crowder didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He posted a video on Tuesday titled, ‘Urgent. The YouTube ‘Purge’ is coming.”

(Updates with comments from YouTube creator in seventh paragraph)

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Alistair Barr

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