YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki today shared her quarterly update letter with creators — though this iteration honed in on a single philosophical conundrum: how YouTube approaches “openness,” Wojcicki writes, “and how we balance that with our responsibility to protect the community.”
Wojcicki defended the nature of an open platform, even as many community members and observers have railed against YouTube for the kind of hate speech and harassment that has proliferated on the platform. A recent study, for instance, found that YouTube serves as radicalization pipeline driving users toward increasingly alt-right content. The company has also been plagued with — and, to be fair, has sought to redress — controversies revolving around harassment, misinformation, and inappropriate children’s content.
“As more issues come into view, a rising chorus of policymakers, press, and pundits are questioning whether an open platform is valuable…or even viable,” Wojcicki writes. “Despite these concerns, I believe preserving an open platform is more important than ever…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.”
First, Wojcicki stressed that an open platform leads to a creative economy that has enabled YouTubers to make a generous living, with the number of channels globally who earn more than $100,000 having increased 40% year-over-year. In addition to business perks, openness also fosters community (around Tourette syndrome and college rejection, for instance) and learning opportunities (spearheaded by a growing legion of ‘Edutubers’ like Origin of Everything, Manual do Mundo, Eddie Woo, and Excel is Fun).
However, Wojcicki said that committing to an open platform is “not easy” when it means hosting content that is controversial or offensive — though, ultimately, she posited that a diversity of viewpoints makes for a “stronger” society. Furthermore, she said that “problematic” content represents just a fraction of one percent of the content on YouTube, while acknowledging that it has a “hugely outsized impact” in terms of the the damage it can do to YouTube’s reputation.
While the letter didn’t introduce any new polices, it did highlight some of YouTube’s recent attempts to ratchet down on objective content, including new rules against hate speech and forthcoming guidelines about creator-on-creator harassment.