YouTube flip-flops on suspending video blogger accused of harassment

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.

Michael Newberg | CNBC

YouTube has suspended the monetization of a popular user Steven Crowder for “a pattern of egregious actions that has harmed the broader community” — only hours after defending it.

The flip-flop shows how YouTube continues to struggle to define and enforce clear standards for content on its platform, and comes as Google-owned YouTube faces pressure from lawmakers and the public to remove hateful content and misinformation from its platform. Parent company Alphabet reported a slowdown in ad revenue growth in Q1, which some analysts believed was partly a result of algorithm changes meant to reduce the prominence of harmful content on YouTube.

Vox.com producer Carlos Maza, who identifies as gay, initially complained to YouTube on June 1, saying that Crowder, a popular YouTube user, made homophobic and racial slurs toward him in his videos. Crowder, which has 3.84 million subscribers, earns an estimated annual revenue of $81,000 from YouTube, according to social analytics company SocialBlade.com.

YouTube responded Tuesday, saying that after a four-day long “in-depth investigation,” Crowder’s videos were “hurtful” but didn’t violate any of the platform’s policies. Maza became the target of more harassment as a result of that decision, he told CNBC.com, adding that he had received increased death threats from Crowder supporters since Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, the company announced a new anti-harassment policy that will crack down on users and accounts that express supremacy over other groups. However, Crowder’s videos remained available and YouTube continued to tell CNBC that they didn’t violate the policies.

Two hours later, the company publicly tweeted at Maza, saying it had decided to suspend Crowder’s monetization after all.

Adding to the confusion, YouTube then tweeted that Crowder could be reinstated if he stops selling t-shirts with offensive messages on them.

YouTube declined to provide a statement on the flip-flop.

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