YouTube dug a great big hole for itself earlier this week when its PR bungled its response to the ongoing harassment of a journalist by a far-right pundit. Internally, the backlash from employees at its parent company is growing as LGBTQ and allied workers mobilize to demand a satisfactory response.
To recap: Carlos Maza, a Vox video journalist, gained widespread attention via a Twitter thread where he described years of harassment inflicted by YouTube pundit Steven Crowder and his fans. Many of the attacks focused on Maza’s homosexuality and Hispanic background—two traits that ostensibly should be protected under the platform’s long-standing hate speech policies.
Responding to Maza on Twitter, an official YouTube account first claimed nothing in Crowder’s videos broke site rules, only to announce less than a day later that his channel would be demonetized due to a “pattern of egregious actions” that had “harmed the broader community.” It cited a T-shirt Crowder sells that bears the phrase “socialism is for f*gs” (it’s censored on the shirt itself) and alluded to other infractions which it failed to specify.
YouTube’s sloppy messaging aside, demonetizing rather than banning Crowder—not to mentioned failing to cite a specific policy the channel had broken—had the effect of pissing off just about everyone following the day-long blunder, from Maza and other journalists to Senator Ted Cruz, and of course, Googlers themselves. The unrest within Google’s staff is now percolating into protest.
“There’s a lot of unhappiness, especially in Gayglers and other LGBTQ-related groups,” a Google employee, who requested not to be named to speak freely, told Gizmodo. “YouTube’s public Twitter admitted the content was hurtful, which violates the written policies, but nevertheless refused to take it down. Demonetization feels like a slap on the wrist in this case, they should at least be taking down the relevant videos.”
Inside Google, documents have circulated in opposition to how YouTube handled moderating Crowder’s channel, including a petition to have YouTube remove the rainbow branding from its accounts because the company’s decision “allows, and therefore perpetuates, homophobic hate speech and rhetoric in favour of defending the right to public debate,” according to two current employees and screenshots of the petition shared with Gizmodo.
Google also has contingents of its workers march in LGBT+ events during Pride month; dissatisfied workers have suggested using them as an opportunity to draw attention to YouTube’s missteps. “If you are marching with Google/Youtube at Pride consider displaying prominent signs of protest. If people choose not to march respect that choice,” a document, titled “No Pride in YouTube,” reads. “If you decide not to march at company pride events, explain why you don’t want to be the public face for decisions like this.” It goes on to list three events—Reclaim Pride in New York, Trans March in San Fransisco, and UK Black Pride in London—where workers might put this plan into action.
Activists involved in the San Fransisco Pride March are already mulling a ban on Google’s participation from the parade.
“It’s very hypocritical for YouTube to be using the Pride branding, Google telling us that it wants to be inclusive and supportive of LBGTQ+ employees and issues, and Susan [Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO] telling employees that she’s prioritizing growing YouTube responsibly and preventing abuse and then continue to do things like this,” the employee told Gizmodo. The petition calling on YouTube to stop co-opting the rainbow flag has, according to this source, around 300 signatures as of this writing—but unlike prior internal and open letters within Google’s growing activist culture, consensus isn’t necessarily the goal here. “It’s more of a symbolic gesture and many people who are upset about YouTube’s behavior want more than a symbolic change,” the employee wrote. “We don’t really want YouTube to remove Pride branding, we want YouTube to remove Crowder.”
We’ve reached out to YouTube for comment and will update if we hear back.