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YouTube CEO: Social media has 'responsibility' to greater good

Susan Wojcicki, one of Google's earliest employees, says the massive video site must always be flexible and willing to change.

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube's CEO, said the video site must always be "flexible" to change.
James Martin/CNET

YouTube is more than just a video site -- it has a greater responsibility to the world around it.

That's what CEO Susan Wojcicki said when asked about social networks and what they owe "the greater good of the nation or humanity."

"I think we have real responsibility," Wojcicki said Tuesday during The New York Times New Work Summit in Half Moon Bay, California. "We take it seriously, in terms of understanding how our product is used, the implications."

The societal role of the most popular sites on the internet has been top of mind in the last few months, since the election of President Donald Trump. Both Google, YouTube's parent company, and Facebook have been criticized for their role in helping spread misinformation about the election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal about his company's role in democracy. Last month, he published a nearly 6,000-word manifesto about Facebook's future and creating a "social infrastructure" that can do things like increase civic engagement or use artificial intelligence to detect terrorism recruitment.

Wojcicki was joined on stage Tuesday by Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed. He agreed with the idea. "Media companies have always had a special relationship toward democracy," he said.

Wojcicki said one of the difficult things is predicting how people will use YouTube's products. (The site welcomes a billion people a month -- one in every seven people on earth.)

"Obviously one of the challenges is you can't always understand what the downstream effects are going to be of that technology -- what that use is going to be," she said. "Part of it is making sure that you're willing to be changed and you're willing to be flexible. You're willing to understand and you're willing to keep investing and be sure the platforms are doing the right things."

Before she was CEO of YouTube, Wojcicki joined Google as one of its earliest employees. She famously rented out her garage to co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Under her tenure, the video site has expanded vastly. Last week, Wojcicki announced YouTube TV, a virtual cable service that will offer all the broadcast networks and sports channels, among other channels. YouTube also has a dedicated gaming site called YouTube Gaming, and another subscription site called YouTube Red.

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