YouTube made some queer people extremely mad this week by refusing to take action against Steven Crowder, a right-wing comic with a history of being an asshole on the internet. And during Pride month!!!!
This story goes back a couple of years, when Crowder—a pro-life, Christian, Canadian-American who, oddly, used to voice a character on the gay-adjacent PBS show Arthur—started dragging Vox's Carlos Maza on the show he hosts on YouTube. Maza is a gay American writer and critic who focuses on conservative media and politics. He's also the host of his own show, Strikethrough, which is hosted on YouTube as well. A few recent episodes of Strikethrough are titled "Why Tucker Carlson Pretends to Hate Elites" and "You're Watching Fox News. You Just Don't Know It." It's basically Media Matters meets Vox.
For some unknown reason, Crowder has something of a Thing with Maza and makes fun of the guy in an adolescent manner reminiscent of high school jocks in the '90s. He's called him a "lispy queer," an "anchor baby," and a "gay Mexican." It's not particularly funny, but Maza put together a supercut of Crowder dragging him so you can see for yourself.
Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video "debunking" Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here's a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
My 4-year-old nephew (the smart one) has a more sophisticated sense of humor, but Crowder, for some reason, has a significant audience, and Maza says Crowder's fans have targeted him for abuse.
Last year, I got doxxed, and it scared the fuck out of me. My phone was bombarded with hundreds of texts at the exact same time. The messages? pic.twitter.com/ls4qBM9k08
— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019
This all bubbled to the surface this week when Maza started to fight back. He publicly called YouTube out on Twitter and asked queer YouTubers to join him in demanding the company take action. But while he got tons of support from LGBTQ creators and allies, this week YouTube announced that Crowder's channel doesn't violate their anti-bullying policies and while they demonetized his account on Wednesday, they are declining to ban him entirely.
Maza and others are not happy about this, and I deeply sympathize with the man. It hurts to be mocked, especially for intractable characteristics like sexuality or race. Crowder's humor may be cheap, but that doesn't mean it can't wound. It also seems somewhat hypocritical that at the same time YouTube declined to ban Crowder, they also announced a new policy prohibiting all “videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion" and are "partnering closely with lawmakers and civil society around the globe" to do it. The problem with banning people for hateful content, of course, is that no algorithm or human can fully determine what's hateful. It all depends on who is watching. Even the term "hate speech" doesn't exist in any meaningful way in American law—and is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment—so while social media platforms may have good legal arguments for banning accounts for defamation, threats, or inciting violence, who's to decide what's "hateful" and what's not?
For better or worse, private companies are not required to adhere to the First Amendment and are perfectly within their rights to ban people for whatever reason. But even under this new policy, Crowder's videos don't violate YouTube guidelines. He didn't claim that heterosexual white guys are inherently superior to Latino homosexuals (although I would not be surprised if he believes it). He didn't dox Maza (who is actually of Cuban, not Mexican, descent) himself or even ask his fans to it for him. He didn't call for violence or harassment or issue any threats. He didn't even lie about him. He made fun of the guy. That's it. And even Maza himself says it's not Crowder he's mad at. It's YouTube—a company that is happy to hang its rainbow flag every June but, at the same time, refuses to protect a gay content creator—he wants to see change, and it's not hard to see why he's pissed off.
On Twitter, Maza alleged that YouTube is refusing to ban Crowder because he has 3 million subscribers and it's bad for their bottom line. And this may be true, but Alex Jones had many times that many viewers when he was banned from YouTube last year, so that argument falls a bit flat. Whatever the reason—and as odious and unfunny as Crowder may be—YouTube is doing the right thing, at least in this case. Crowder is a comic, doing exactly what comics do: Mocking a public figure. There's nothing illegal about that, and if YouTube does reverse its decision and start to ban everyone who mocks people for their sexuality or race, they're going to have to ban a whole lot of queer people of color who enjoy making fun of straight white dudes next. That's not a precedent I'd like to see set.
Note: This post has been updated to note that Maza is of Cuban, not Mexican, descent.