Alphabet union condemns YouTube's response to pro-Trump riot at US Capitol

The criticism is the union's first major act since launching this week.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
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Alphabet employees condemned YouTube on Thursday.

Angela Lang/CNET

Alphabet's employee union on Thursday called out YouTube for its response to the riots at the US Capitol a day before, the union's first major act since it was launched earlier this week

The attack by a pro-Trump mob left at least four people dead after it stormed the Capitol as Congress met inside to certify Joe Biden as the next US president. The Alphabet union slammed YouTube , which the company also owns, for not banning President Donald Trump from the platform. 

Instead, the company removed a video Trump posted in response to the mob, in which he repeated baseless claims of widespread election fraud and told rioters, "We love you. You're very special."

"We know that social media has emboldened the fascist movement growing in the United States and we are particularly cognizant that YouTube, an Alphabet product, has played a key role in this growing threat, which has received an insufficient response by YouTube executives," the union statement reads.

The union is made up of at least 400 workers at Google parent company Alphabet. Unlike a conventional union, it doesn't have collective bargaining rights, and one of its main goals is to push Alphabet to act ethically, its founders say. 

YouTube didn't respond to requests for comment. 

The pushback from the union comes as social media companies have clamped down on Trump in the wake of the attack. Twitter suspended Trump's account for 12 hours and Facebook banned his account indefinitely. 

After removing Trump's video a day before, YouTube on Thursday announced a change to its policies. The platform will now issue a strike on any account that posts videos making false claims about election fraud. Under YouTube's rules, three strikes within a 90-day period results in permanently being kicked off the platform. The first strike comes with a one-week ban from posting content. The second strike comes with a two-week ban.

YouTube first announced the policy update against election fraud claims last month but allowed a grace period before offenders were penalized with strikes. The grace period was set to expire on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20 but was moved up "due to the disturbing events that transpired yesterday."

YouTube's policy tweak on Thursday stops short of directly taking action against the president. "We apply our policies and penalties consistently, regardless of who uploads it," the company said in a tweet.

A YouTube spokesman said the company didn't feel it needed to specifically address Trump because the platform has already laid out its three-strikes policy on barring creators from posting content. The spokesman also said false claims may not only come from Trump himself but others within the president's orbit and the policy would apply to them as well. 

The Alphabet union said YouTube executives haven't gone far enough to rein in Trump. "Once again, YouTube's response yesterday was lackluster, demonstrating a continued policy of selective and insufficient enforcement of its guidelines against the use of the platform to spread hatred and extremism," the union said.