SAN FRANCISCO — YouTube said Wednesday it will remove false videos alleging that major events like the Holocaust didn’t happen, as well as a broad array of content by white supremacists and others in a move to more aggressively crack down on hate speech.
The Google-owned video site, along with its Silicon Valley peers, is starting to take a broader view of hate speech in the face of criticism that it has failed to prevent the spread of harmful videos that distort world events, hurt children or promote discriminatory ideologies. On Tuesday, for instance, Vox Media called out YouTube for failing to remove homophobic and racist videos attacking one of its reporters.
While YouTube, which has over 1.8 billion daily users, has long prohibited videos that promote violence or hatred against people based on age, religious beliefs, gender, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation and other categories, the new hate speech policy will go further. The policies will specifically ban videos “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation, or exclusion,” including groups that “glorify Nazi ideology,” the company said , because such beliefs were “inherently discriminatory.”
YouTube said the change in policy will result in the removal of thousands of channels.
Previously, the company had drawn a fine line between “hate” and “superiority,” choosing to limit the spread of white supremacy videos by not recommending them and not allowing advertising on them, but not removing them unless they expressly promoted violence. In 2018, The Washington Post reported that users on social media sites popular with hate groups, such as Gab.ai and 4chan, linked to YouTube more often than any other site.
Separately on Wednesday, YouTube said it wouldn’t allow the account spreading the homophobic and racist videos against the Vox reporter to earn advertising revenue anymore.
The company will also remove content denying that well-documented violent events took place, like the Holocaust or the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Victims of those events will also be considered protected under the company’s new policies, as will people in protected castes in India, where certain castes are routinely subject to discrimination.
For years, advocates have asked YouTube to remove Holocaust denial and other white supremacist content.
“While this is an important step forward, this move alone is insufficient and must be followed by many more changes from YouTube and other tech companies to adequately counter the scourge of online hate and extremism,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the advocacy group the Anti-Defamation League, which has been working with tech companies including YouTube to counter hate speech.
Wednesday’s decision by YouTube to wipe videos that distort or deny major world events that involve violence goes a step further than rivals Facebook and Twitter, which allow hoaxes on their platforms as long as they don’t promote or lead to violence.
The issue came to a head recently, when Facebook refused to take down a video that distorted the speech of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, making her look drunk, even as the video spread virally.
YouTube took down the video immediately because it has long prohibited altering videos with the purpose to deceive the public. (YouTube allows other hoaxes on the platform so long as they don’t promote violence or alter a video clip.) Twitter also kept the video up.
Silicon Valley companies have historically resisted playing an editorial role when it comes to user-generated content. Now, as tech companies come under greater scrutiny, they are more willing to take an active stance. But the steps have largely been incremental and often reactive — as in the case of YouTube’s decision Wednesday.
The civil rights group Muslim Advocates applauded YouTube’s move but said that its policies don’t appear to go far enough. “A critical question remains: how will the company enforce this new policy-especially against popular and profitable YouTubers who espouse anti-Muslim bigotry?” said Madihha Ahussain, Muslim Advocates’ special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry. She added that much of the anti-Muslim hate in public life would likely still slip through the cracks of YouTube’s new policies because it masks itself as other types of conspiracies.