Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, said in an open letter to YouTube creators that the site was welcoming to “content that is outside the mainstream, controversial, or even offensive,” despite them having removed various conservative channels for posting just that type of content.
Wojcicki stated in the letter that creating an open platform is “more important than ever,” and that the benefits of freedom of expression far outweigh the costs. She argues that it “leads to opportunity… helps foster community… [and] leads to learning.”
Wojcicki said that this commitment to openness “is not easy” and means that the site must leave up “content that is outside the mainstream, controversial, or even offensive,” in order to create “a stronger and more informed society.”
This statement from Wojcicki is absolutely contrary to the actions of her site. Last year, Alex Jones and InfoWars were famously banned from the platform.
Just yesterday, the conservative commentator James Allsup had his channel shut down by YouTube, without any strikes or warnings.
It came along with a wave of other bannings, including the British YouTuber, “The Iconoclast.”
In June of this year, Vox creator Carlos Maza kicked off what was known as the #VoxAdpocalypse, with channels and videos being affected across the board – for example, historical channels that discussed the Second World War and the Nazis for educational purposes, had their videos removed.
It remains to be seen whether this letter from Wojcicki marks a turning point for censorship on YouTube, or, the far more likely option, that they will continue to talk a good talk on the topic, but will do nothing to improve the situation.
You can read an abridged version of the letter below:
Dear creators and artists,
As I do every quarter, I’d like to pause and reflect on my priorities and how I can help you be successful on YouTube. But rather than our usual update on this quarter’s highlights and lowlights, I want to take a minute to talk about something that is incredibly important to me personally, and the future of this platform: openness and how we balance that with our responsibility to protect the community.
YouTube is built on the premise of openness. Based on this open platform, millions of creators around the world have connected with global audiences and many of them have built thriving businesses in the process. But openness comes with its challenges, which is why we also have Community Guidelines that we update on an ongoing basis. Most recently, this includes our hate speech policy and our upcoming harassment policy. When you create a place designed to welcome many different voices, some will cross the line… Despite these concerns, I believe preserving an open platform is more important than ever.
First, openness leads to opportunity. Today’s creators have built an entire creative economy and are redefining the face of media. They are truly next-generation media businesses, with millions of views and global brands, who are contributing to local and global economies, and creating jobs. These are creators that would not have had a chance to break through in a more closed media landscape… A report from Ryerson University found that YouTube creators have created 28,000 full time jobs just in Canada. And 20% of eligible Canadian creators are creating jobs for others. Around the globe, the number of channels earning more than $100,000 continues to climb 40% year over year. Openness has also helped foster community. On an open platform, a shared experience can unite people in amazing ways… And finally, openness leads to learning… Every time I meet someone new and ask them about YouTube, I hear a story about something they learned on the site: how YouTube helped a student ace her math homework, a mom fix a broken garage door, or an employee master a new job skill.
Let me be clear, none of this happens without openness. Without an open system, diverse and authentic voices have trouble breaking through. And the voices that do get a platform often sound like those who already have one… A commitment to openness is not easy. It sometimes means leaving up content that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive. But I believe that hearing a broad range of perspectives ultimately makes us a stronger and more informed society, even if we disagree with some of those views. A large part of how we protect this openness is not just guidelines that allow for diversity of speech, but the steps that we’re taking to ensure a responsible community. I’ve said a number of times this year that this is my number one priority. A responsible approach toward managing what’s on our platform protects our users and creators like you. It also means we can continue to foster all the good that comes from an open platform.
Problematic content represents a fraction of one percent of the content on YouTube and we’re constantly working to reduce this even further. This very small amount has a hugely outsized impact, both in the potential harm for our users, as well as the loss of faith in the open model that has enabled the rise of your creative community. One assumption we’ve heard is that we hesitate to take action on problematic content because it benefits our business. This is simply not true — in fact, the cost of not taking sufficient action over the long term results in lack of trust from our users, advertisers, and you, our creators. We want to earn that trust…
Our approach towards responsibility involves four “Rs”:
- We REMOVE content that violates our policy as quickly as possible… We aim to be thoughtful when we make… updates and consult a wide variety of experts to inform our thinking, for example we talked to dozens of experts as we developed our updated hate speech policy…
- We RAISE UP authoritative voices when people are looking for breaking news and information, especially during breaking news moments.
- We REDUCE the spread of content that brushes right up against our policy line. Already, in the U.S. where we made changes to recommendations earlier this year, we’ve seen a 50% drop of views from recommendations to this type of content, meaning quality content has more of a chance to shine…
- And we set a higher bar for what channels can make money on our site, REWARDING trusted, eligible creators. Not all content allowed on YouTube is going to match what advertisers feel is suitable for their brand, we have to be sure they are comfortable with where their ads appear…
The stories I hear from creators like you inspire me every day. The community you’ve created is living proof that an internet that reflects a broad range of ideas can change the world for the better. You’ve built something incredible; it’s our job to strike the right balance between openness and responsibility so that future generations of creators and users can, as well.