YouTube chief defends right to host 'offensive' and 'controversial' content

CEO Susan Wojcicki has defended right of people to upload content 'outside the mainstream', but set out how platform is cracking down on content that violates terms.

YouTube: taking steps to remove content that violates its guidelines
YouTube: taking steps to remove content that violates its guidelines

YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki has defended the right of the platform to host "offensive" and "controversial" content, as she set out steps the platform is taking to remove material that it deems to violate its policies  and impacts its relationship with advertisers.

In a letter to YouTube creators, Wojcicki set out her view that "preserving an open platform is more important than ever" – even in the face of "a rising chorus of policymakers, press and pundits [who] are questioning whether an open platform is valuable".

She said that YouTube believes "openness leads to opportunity", but added that it had recently taken a number of steps to remove harmful content, including hate speech, posted by "bad actors" who exploit the platform.

YouTube, alongside other tech giants including Facebook and Twitter, has come under increased pressure to moderate offensive and harmful content on its platform. Wojcicki defended the platform's premise to allow users to freely upload material – even when it is controversial – but said it is cracking down on content that violates its community guidelines on child safety, hate speech and pranks.

This includes making "authoritative voices"  especially in news and information  rank better in searches, she said, and reducing the spread of content that violates its terms. Since introducing these changes in the US earlier this year, Wojcicki said, YouTube has already reduced false content spreading in that market and it is now experimenting with these changes in the UK as well as Ireland, South Africa and other English-language markets. 

"Problematic content represents a fraction of 1% of the content on YouTube and we’re constantly working to reduce this even further. This very small amount has a hugely outsized impact, both in the potential harm for our users, as well as the loss of faith in the open model that has enabled the rise of your creative community," Wojcicki outlined in the letter.

"One assumption we’ve heard is that we hesitate to take action on problematic content because it benefits our business. This is simply not true  in fact, the cost of not taking sufficient action over the long term results in lack of trust from our users, advertisers and you, our creators. We want to earn that trust."

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