Amid a slew of bad news for YouTube — including scandals involving conspiracy theories and pedophiles — The New York Times sat down with CEO Susan Wojcicki for a wide-ranging profile, describing her as “the most measured person in tech” even as her company is facing harrowing horrors at seemingly every turn.
Given her comparatively low profile, the Times notes that Wojcicki has not received as much blame as her counterparts at Facebook and Twitter for enabling the spread of misinformation and hate speech on today’s web. While other execs testified in front of Congress last year about these issues, for instance, the Times notes that Wojcicki wasn’t invited.
That said, Wojcicki denied recent reports that YouTube has dragged its feet in addressing objectionable content amid a singular focus on growth. “It’s not like there is one lever we can pull and say, ‘Hey, let’s make all these changes,’ and everything would be solved,” she told the Times. “That’s not how it works.”
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Despite ambitious goals to ratchet up viewer growth upon her appointment as CEO of YouTube in 2014, Wojcicki reportedly had a moment of inflection in spring 2017, according to the Times, amid the initial onslaught of the Adpocalypse (when top marketers pulled their spending after ads were discovered to have run against terrorist videos and hate speech). At that point, YouTube pivoted to address the spread of objectionable content on a more granular level. In addition to adding thousands of human reviewers, for instance, Wojcicki also established an internal “intelligence desk” to identify controversial issues arising across YouTube more quickly.
Today, Wojcicki says that YouTube has its sights set on “responsible growth,” according to the Times, meaning that it wants to remove violating videos more quickly, promote authoritative clips, and limit the spread of “borderline content” that is in some way harmful but doesn’t fully violate community guidelines. To this end, a recent Bloomberg report claimed that YouTube had developed an internal metric known as ‘quality watch time‘ — though it’s apparently still working out how quality is defined and how such a concept might be implemented.
And despite the fact that having to address the internet’s atrocities on a perpetual basis can make for unpleasant work, Wojcicki acknowledged that it’s a noble pursuit. “It’s probably not even rewarding, because everybody is angry at you all the time,” she said. “But I think it’s probably some of the most important work that I will do in my career, because it’s setting a standard of responsibility for the internet.” She concluded: “I own this problem, and I’m going to fix it.”