clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

YouTube cut comments on hate crimes hearing after they became … hate speech

Truly incredible.

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

At the beginning of a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism,” a witness from the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish anti-hate group, noted that social media played a significant role in the modern rise of the far right.

“White supremacists in the United States have seen a resurgence in the past three years. [A] driving force for the resurgence of white supremacy is the role of social media in enabling this hate to spread,” Eileen Hershenov, the ADL’s senior vice president for policy, said in her testimony.

The hearing was streamed live on YouTube. If she wanted proof to back up her comment, it was right there: The comments section — which scrolls next to the video in a kind of live-updating stream — had been a tire fire of white nationalism and anti-Semitism from the get-go. Eventually, YouTube had to disable the comment section altogether.

Several studies in the past year have found that YouTube is particularly popular with the alt-right, and that people on the far right are more likely to say they were radicalized by consuming online content, particularly videos. All in all, it suggests that the platform — which has more than a billion users — is serving as a particularly potent tool for hate movement recruiting.

I’m going to share two screenshots from the chat while it was live to give you a flavor of the conversation — to show just what happens on YouTube on the regular. The language in these screenshots is offensive; if you want to skip over them, I don’t blame you. Commenters insulted the chair of the committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), for being Jewish:

Here’s a second screenshot, taken during Hershenov’s testimony, in which a user calls her a “camel faced JEW:”

In one particularly foul moment that I won’t show, ghouls mocked testimony from Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, a father who lost two daughters in an anti-Muslim hate crime in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They said his testimony must have been written by a “Jew Hollywood writer” and posted the number “88” surrounded by lightning bolts, a white nationalist symbol.

It’s extraordinary. If you’re a random American who wanted to follow these government hearings, you would have logged on to YouTube and been exposed to white nationalist propaganda and talking points. It’s as if YouTube had deliberately engineered a demonstration of one of the big problems the hearing was convened to address.

Alexandria Walden, a staffer at Google, which owns YouTube, actually testified before the committee. “Hate speech and violent extremism have no place on YouTube,” Walden said. If only that were true.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.