Google CEO on YouTube: 'We aren't quite where we want to be'

Sundar Pichai concedes platform needs better frameworks around hate speech.

Pichai: 'None of us wants harmful content on our platforms'
Pichai: 'None of us wants harmful content on our platforms'

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has said that YouTube needs to establish "better frameworks" around what it considers hate speech as criticism towards its content policies heats up.

"We aren’t quite where we want to be," Pichai admitted in an interview with Axios.

Pichai was asked to give his view on a number of controversies at the video platform, namely its failure to spot and remove hate-peddling content, such as a recent Islamophobic, antisemitic and homophobic video by a 14-year-old girl that formed part of a BuzzFeed report.

"I don’t know all the details of this specific video, but in general none of us wants harmful content on our platforms," Pichai responded. "Last quarter alone, we removed nine million videos from the platform."

He said YouTube adopts the same ranking approach that Google search utilises: pushing quality content higher up in results in order to stifle "borderline content", which he described as "content which doesn’t violate policies but which can still cause harm".

"It’s a hard computer-science problem; it’s also a hard societal problem, because we need better frameworks around what is hate speech, what’s not and how do we as a company make those decisions at scale and get it right without making mistakes," Pichai added.

The interview, which aired on Sunday, was filmed before YouTube fell under further criticism last week for its decision not to remove right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder’s homophobic mockery of Vox journalist Carlos Maza.

The platform later decided to demonetise Crowder’s channel until he "addresses all of the issues with his channel".

YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki yesterday (10 June) apologised to the LGBT+ community for the decision and shed further light on why the platform "needs to be consistent" on its policies.

"I know that the decisions we made was very hurtful to the LGBTQ community and that wasn’t our intention at all," Wojcicki said at the Code Conference. "That was not our intention and we were really sorry about that, and I do want to explain why we made the decision we did.

"It’s just from a policy standpoint we need to be consistent – if we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we need to take down."

Last week, YouTube unveiled a new policy to crack down on extremist videos that advocate neo-Nazi and bigoted idealogies, as well as videos promoting obvious conspiracy theories.

The policy will ban "videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status", according to a blog post announcing the update.

A version of this story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific

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