YouTube new harassment policies ban racial, sexist or LGBTQ insults

The #YouTubeIsOverParty is back.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

YouTube is trying to change its online culture.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

YouTube said Wednesday it will intensify harassment policies on its massive video site, including removing videos that insult people based on race, gender or sexual orientation -- whether the victim is famous or a private figure. Personal threats, even ones that are veiled or implied, will be prohibited, and video creators with a pattern of harassing behavior could be prevented from making money with their videos. 

Google-owned YouTube has evolved into an unparalleled machine that churns out video -- 500 hours of content is uploaded every minute for more than 2 billion monthly viewers to watch. But the company has been plagued by backlashes for failing to wrangle offensive content or dangerous attacks on its platform. 

Among the new changes, YouTube pledges to crack down on demeaning language, saying it will no longer allow content that maliciously insults someone based on protected attributes like race, gender or sexual orientation. That applies to attacks on private people, other creators, politicians and celebrities. 

Watch this: YouTube's machine learning can't keep up with its promises (The Daily Charge, 9/9/2019)

It also promises to go beyond its past practice of prohibiting explicit threats, now pledging to ban veiled or implied threats too. It gave the examples of content simulating violence toward someone or language suggesting that physical violence may occur.

And creators who show a pattern of harassing behavior may find their ability to make money on YouTube revoked, even if no individual instance of harassment crosses the line.

Earlier this year, YouTube took this route with the channel of Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian who repeatedly mocked Carlos Maza, a progressive journalist who is Latino and gay. After days of controversy, YouTube demonetized Crowder by taking away revenue-generating ads, but the move mocked by some critics who pointed out that Crowder could still post videos and then make money outside of YouTube by selling merchandise. 

As with many of YouTube's policies, the biggest challenge of the new rules may prove to be enforcement. 

With YouTube's unprecedented scale, the company has struggled to consistently enforce its policies across its sprawling network. Earlier this year, YouTube vowed to remove comments from videos featuring children younger than 13 years old, but months later, comment-enabled videos of babies and preschoolers were still easy to find. 

Sometimes large or popular channels are perceived to get special treatment, such as the InfoWars channel of conspiracy-theorist Alex Jones. InfoWars persisted on YouTube until the middle of last year despite months of complaints that his online media empire peddled malicious disinformation. Other times, YouTube has difficulty making judgments when nuance and context are crucial to determining whether something is a policy violation or fair play. 


The changes sparked a revival of the #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag, the top trend on Twitter in the US and rising to rank fourth worldwide midday Wednesday with more than 21,000 tweets, before dropping in the rankings. 

The #YouTubeIsOverParty hashtag first rose to prominence during a different YouTuber backlash, three years ago. A change in how YouTube notified channels about demonetized videos led creators to believe that swaths of videos were suddenly demonetized en masse. But since then, the #YouTubeIsOverParty tag has evolved into a meme appropriated for any kind of grievance -- whether legit or joke -- against YouTube. 

Originally published Dec. 11, 6:46 a.m. PT. 
Update, 1:28 p.m.: Adds more context and Twitter trend.