Updated on Aug. 12, 5:45 p.m. with statements from Carlos Maza.
Fourteen months after YouTube suspended right-wing commentator Steven Crowder from its Partner Program, the video giant has reinstated monetization on Crowder’s channel today.
Crowder was suspended on June 5, 2019, following his racist and homophobic harassment of former Vox journalist Carlos Maza, in which he referred to Maza in videos as a “lispy queer” and “anchor baby.” Crowder was also punished for the sale of hateful merch touting the slogan, ‘Socialism is for f*gs’.
The decision to reinstate monetization for Crowder is bound to elicit outrage — as did YouTube’s initial handling of the incident. The company is seeking to balance what it says is a consistent application of its policies with welcoming a creator back into the fold who has made statements that run afoul of its corporate values — and which were reprehensible in the eyes of many employees.
In a Twitter thread, Maza — who left Vox in February to become an independent YouTube creator — responded to YouTube’s decision to remonetize Crowder by saying that the company has no interest in enforcing its own anti-hate policies. He notes, in recent months, that Crowder has published videos containing conspiracy theories about COVID-19, calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization, and reinforcing harmful stereotypes about transgender people. Accordingly, Maza is urging creators to protest YouTube by refusing to participate in any company promo materials, speaking publicly against the platform at every opportunity, and supporting a creators’ union.
Like Logan Paul before him and Shane Dawson more recently, Crowder was suspended from monetization due to YouTube’s Creator Influence policy, which punishes creators for on and off-platform behavior that poses a threat to its broader ecosystem of creators, viewers, and advertisers. Upon notifying creators of these suspensions, YouTube says it shares whether the suspension is temporary or indefinite based on the severity of the offense. If temporary, YouTube tells creators when they are eligible to reapply to the Partner Program, and thus begin monetizing again.
Paul’s demonetization lasted two weeks (though he remained on probation for 90 days), while Dawson’s suspension began in June of this year, and is indefinite. YouTube called Crowder’s 14-month suspension — during which his channel lost access to revenues from ads, Super Chats, channel memberships, and any other monetization tools — a significant penalty.
It’s been 14 months since the harassment and hateful merch. What’s changed?
While Crowder was demonetized last June under the terms of the Creator Influence policy, the situation additionally spawned a revamp of a separate policy last December with respect to harassment. YouTube says the incident made the company realize it had not gone far enough to protect against patterns of harassment, so the updated policy mandates the removal of videos that contain insults based on race, gender, and sexual orientation.
“Over a year ago, Steven Crowder was suspended from the YouTube Partner Program (YPP) for harassing a fellow creator and harming the YouTube community,” a YouTube spokesperson tells Tubefilter in a statement. “This incident exposed gaps in our Community Guidelines, so last December we updated our policies to better address patterns of harassing behavior and our work here is ongoing.”
“Separately, Mr. Crowder has also taken steps to address the behavior that led to his suspension and has demonstrated a track record of policy-compliant behavior,” the spokesperson continued, “Creators who are suspended from YPP can reapply for access, and after careful consideration, we will be reinstating him into the program today.”
To this end, YouTube notes that Crowder took down the harassing content in December — in tandem with the new policy launch. He has also stopped selling the ‘Socialism is for f*gs’ merch, and has agreed not to sell any merch in the future targeting Maza or containing hateful messaging. (YouTube notes that while merch with the ‘Socialism’ slogan can still be found online via copycats or old links, Crowder is no longer involved in the sale of these products).
And finally, YouTube said that over the past 14 months, Crowder has established a track record of good behavior. The company has gone back and reviewed multiple videos on his channel. While there is still controversial content, YouTube acknowledges, nothing has been found to be policy non-compliant. (Crowder currently counts 4.6 million subscribers on his channel, and has recently been nabbing roughly 20 million monthly views. Recent uploads include Everything Wrong With Kamala Harris! and Black Lives Matter Is A Terrorist Organization).
Going forward, Crowder’s channel will still be subject to audits — as with any other channel in the Partner Program — and could still incur further punishment if he is found to be in violation of policies. While it’s tricky to discuss hypotheticals, a spokesperson tells Tubefilter, “If there are further violations on this channel, we will take appropriate action.”
Consistently applying policies makes for tough decisions, YouTube says.
YouTube acknowledges that the decision to reinstate monetization for Crowder was a tough one, but reiterated the importance of consistently enforcing its policies and maintaining a principled approach.
The outwardly confusing way it handled the situation initially — leaving the objectionable videos up while demonetizing Crowder’s channel in June, and then rolling out a revamped harassment policy in December — not only sparked severe backlash online but within YouTube itself.
Late last June, an internal memo was uncovered reportedly stating that any Google or YouTube employees who protested the Crowder decision while marching with the company at San Francisco Pride would be found to be in violation of Google’s code of conduct. (While employees could protest the decision, they would reportedly face punishment for doing so as part of Google’s corporate participation at Pride).
Furthermore, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki personally apologized for any hurt it had caused the LGBTQ+ community during an appearance at Code Conference. At the same time, she defended the decision to let Crowder’s videos remain on the site while removing his channel from the Partner Program. She said that YouTube had long been the home of many LGBTQ+ creators, and thus was in a tough position, attempting to balance its support for a marginalized community while unilaterally enforcing its regulations.
For his part, Maza has sought to create long-form video essays about media manipulation on his nascent YouTube channel, and he is also highly critical of the platform itself. “YouTube has spent years actively promoting white supremacist and transphobic content,” Maza wrote on Twitter. “It’s the largest radicalization engine on the planet. It is bonkers that journalists continue to act as if this is a moderation failure, when it’s actually YouTube’s entire business strategy.”