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Logos courtesy of Vox Media and Google respectively. Video snapshot courtesy of Steven Crowder.

The VoxAdpocalypse, explained

How right-wing punditry blames its victims.

In classic right-wing blame-shifting fashion, Carlos Maza, host of Strikethrough for Vox is now being blamed for ushering in a new wave of mass-demonetization across the platform in what is now being referred to as the #VoxAdpocalypse, but what most observers — especially on the right-wing — seem to ignore, is that it wasn’t Carlos’ pursuit after justice that caused YouTube to lose its political commentators a great sum of their advertisement money — it was their very plea for an “impartial” implementation of anti-extremism policies that placed involved political content under greater risk of demonetization.If Steven Crowder had initially really apologized, this mess would’ve been avoided altogether, instead of it being the defining event in a Pride Month where YouTube fashionably changed its logo with no tangible commitment to the LGBT+ community whatsoever.

You wouldn’t be at fault if this whole controversy was hard to follow. The time-line of events is fairly convoluted already as it is, but the version of them being passed around as true by Steven Crowder and his right-wing surrogates, is inaccurate at best. It ignores what YouTube has been doing to undermine its creators, poorly enforce its rules, and cause plight to political commentators in a way that could’ve been easily avoided had there been an acknowledgement of wrongdoing on Crowder’s side.

The first reverberations of an upcoming controversy came through the form of unsolicited debate requests. Those would’ve been presumably carried out by Steven Crowder’s audience, and included the not-so-subtle jab at mainstream media for not being a reliable source — a short-hand for “fake news” basically. It’s understandable in hindsight to see why the request wouldn’t have been ratified under those grounds anyway since Vox ever-so-rarely does second-hand journalism. They’re only one level below the top of the food chain itself.

Shortly thereafter, it was looking like something bigger was brewing in the background. After getting sick and tired of Steven Crowder’s fanbase sending him a deluge of predictably-timed homophobic and racist remarks after each Strikethrough episode is released, Carlos Maza unloaded the receipts of community guidelines violations on social media that it became hard for YouTube to ignore them.

Carlos cut together a video of Steven Crowder using some pretty inflammatory language and posted it on Twitter. The evidence on display was that of a news story in the making — YouTube, who’d been presumably frustrated with the way it handled LGBT+ content in the past after deeming it kid-unfriendly and systematically demonetizing it was due for a change of heart. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to substantiate the logo change to the LGBT+ Pride Flag colors, but what ensued thereafter was a mixture of confused reactionary policy changes, and official statements from YouTube that would just continue to contradict each other at every turn.

At this point, Steven Crowder was already concocting an appealing narrative for his fanbase to latch onto — since NBCUniversal is a major investor in Vox Media, Crowder thought it appropriate to pin the blame on them for trying to take down a competitor in FOX, and also for launching an assault predicated on the notion that mainstream media has always wanted the ill of independent journalists. But here’s the thing: Steven Crowder is not an independent journalist.

Being who Crowder is, he’s fundamentally beholden to provide his viewers conservative commentary. If Steven Crowder decided the next day that he was going to co-sign liberals on a matter of contention, he can pretty reliably expect their ire as they’ve come to anticipate from him a specific brand of journalism that leans pretty heavily into conservative partisan politics. On YouTube especially, you run the risk of performing really badly if your clickthrough rate is not up to par, and that mean sensationalizing and extrapolating upon the original story as much as possible to extract as much ad revenue potential. When a business locks you in a matter of delivering news that is inherently reliant on misrepresenting the facts, and not performing with the tact and facticity genuine journalism relies on to keep power in check, you’ve got no claim to independence more than Carlos is beholden to Vox shareholders’ corporate interests.

Carlos Maza on the other hand, is under no such pressure. NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast, influences no part of Vox Media’s editorial process as the Verge has been solidly reporting on the death of net neutrality — which would be a direct blow to Comcast’s bottom-line — for years now. He’s free to work within the financial safety net his job provides him, and that therefore allows him to get a bit more creative with his presentation style as opposed to the stale talking-man format conservatives have pioneered and used almost to exhaustion at this point. It’s even more bizarre that Crowder gets to make this appeal to independent journalism, when a video he made a recent rebuttal against was that of Tucker Carlson being beholden to corporate interest, money and fame.

Things get weirder from there on out. Crowder posted a satire of an apology video, and the tone was just bizarre. It kept hitting the “censorship brigade” notes that Steven had already relied upon, and it was very much a call for his audiences to escalate conflict and not acknowledge he’s done what YouTube has later-then found him in violation of.

Pressure was mounting and YouTube initially vowed to investigate the issue. They made the initial call not to pursue any disciplinary measure because it deemed that Crowder was merely making a political point. This wasn’t totally unexpected, nor was it out of the realm of possibility for YouTube to admit since they’ve previously hosted Alex Jones for years before banning him, but this was a clear contradiction on their part of what it’s in their community guidelines. These were what YouTube has utilized to justify its content moderation decisions in the past, so to see it not used to enforce a sensible decision for the platform has been bizarre at best to witness, and it’d done more to further confuse the community on what was within regulation, versus what is prohibited. If YouTube’s stance remained unchanged, it was already going to set a very dangerous precedent for bad-faith actors who would exploit the system with no concern or regard to the platform’s poorly-enforced community guidelines.

This narrative of “corporation versus common man” escalated matters further. Mere hours after the investigation was presumably concluded, YouTube revised its statement citing that monetization for Steven Crowder has been frozen due to egregious behavior, referring back to a blogpost in February 2018 which was posted in response to Logan Paul making a much-publicized, universally-disdained, inappropriate video of someone committing suicide on video in Japan. This essentially meant that YouTube was invoking its “extreme measures” clause of the community guidelines, whereby it deemed Steven Crowder enough of a threat to forgo the regular process YouTubers have to go through and commit to a decision on the higher end of the decision-making chain. The problem was still that YouTube had stuck only to demonetization and did not remove the content, nor ban the channel involved, but it was a sign that they were at least in some measure publicly aware that Crowder indeed violated their community guidelines, even if he wasn’t properly reprimanded for it.

The saga doesn’t end there. YouTube goes on to further clarify — or recant its statement depending on who you ask — that Steven Crowder can resume monetization of his videos if he just no longer shares the link of his “Socialism is for Fags” T-shirts on the description of his videos. This was either an initial miscalculation on part of YouTube, or a genuine walking back of a decision they did not initially consider the financial cost of. The case for why Steven Crowder should stay on the platform is quite shallow and simple — YouTube is looking to make money, so it should keep hosting those who make them money. But by invoking a rule once only used in rare cases, YouTube had made it seem that it considered the ethical versus financial cost of hosting Steven Crowder and decided that pulling monetization was a sensible decision to make. The clarification could’ve been just a ruse to soften harsh public response as Crowder’s narrative of censorship started to gain traction, but it was just so confusing to see YouTube bounce from one spin to another in a matter of hours.

Things started to get muddier as YouTube fed into yet again a live example of their incompetence by being reactionary and not looking at the nuances of the issue. So to avoid scrutiny by being called a platform with anti-conservative bias, they looked at the event as an opportunity to crackdown on all involved political content. This included channels who haven’t been involved in the slightest in far-right rhetoric, and it once again reinforced a common feeling among content creators that YouTube as a company, is incapable of sticking to a coherent definition of what they do or don’t allow on the platform, prompting further confusion and absolute chaos on both sides of the political spectrum.

YouTube was essentially in all matters but literal, pouring itself a cup of two distinct taps that do not complement each other — how can you on the one hand pledge to do better by its LGBT+ creators, if it’s willing to throw them under the bus for corporate interest? This is not a matter of violating the first amendment (which only applies to limited geography on the global scale) and it’s not even an assault on free speech — what an ideal situation of free exchange would’ve looked like, is Steven Crowder addressing directly what Carlos said about conservatives, the Republican party, and FOX News without resorting to the gratuitous use of derogatory homophobic and racist language; but he did, and all he gets to do is dress it up in comedy and thinly-veiled — actual — censorship conducted through massive scale libel and intimidation by his community.

The effects of the purge were far-reaching — even YouTubers on the left were affected. Ford Fischer, a YouTuber with a stern focus on exposing the alt-right had monetization stripped away from him; Rational Disconnect was met with similar resistance as his video on right-wing extremism in South Africa was removed due to violating community guidelines; Denying History, a YouTube channel with a focus on dispelling revisionist history got suspended for similar reasons; and a whole host of other left-leaning channels seem to be encountering similar issues. The Adpocalypse had started again, but for very different reasons than anyone could’ve possibly anticipated.

A new major development in the story occurred just before midnight of the same day, as Chris Dale, YouTube’s global head of communications and public affairs, basically confirmed what everyone has been suspecting all along — YouTube does allow hate speech as long as it’s part of a larger political narrative:

For hate speech, we look at whether the primary purpose of the video is to incite hatred toward or promote supremacism over a protected group; or whether it seeks to incite violence. To be clear, using racial, homophobic, or sexist epithets on their own would not necessarily violate either of these policies. For example, as noted above, lewd or offensive language is often used in songs and comedic routines. It’s when the primary purpose of the video is hate or harassment. And when videos violate these policies, we remove them.

What YouTube just did, is give free license for harassers to basically make a filler-dressed video where they can talk about something completely off-topic, then lunge claws first on the neck of an unsuspecting target even as YouTube continues to supposedly renew its commitment towards combating hate-speech.

This completely changes the game — now, right-wing content can contain blatant attacks on the integrity of a single individual or group, without it warranting suspension or any disciplinary action of any kind. It was already bad enough that Crowder was conditioned a simple link removal to reprise monetization, but it added further insult to injury knowing what YouTube has been preaching about their commitment to ensuring YouTube is a safe place for all, is complete baloney.

What drama commentators like KEEMSTAR fail to see is that YouTube has not cared for them once, and it still continues to not care at all about what happens to them. The appropriate response to Carlos Maza’s grievances would’ve been to unconditionally suspend monetization for Steven Crowder’s channel until he either complies with community guidelines, or go seek refuse somewhere else his jokes are more welcome. Google is a business that is fully within control of their own boundaries and isn’t legally required to disclose any actual rationale behind banning a channel. They could’ve just done it, but instead, they went after the entire political community because YouTube is a company that very much acts on impulse, not on tact and careful consideration.

When Logan Paul and PewDiePie were previously responsible for YouTube demonetizing lots of content to appeal to advertisers, it was often portrayed as a corporate vs common man confrontation. But because Carlos is queer, because he’s not white, and because he’s facing one of the most ruthlessly offensive right-wing pundits online, his indignance gets co-signed by fellow YouTubers as an affront to free speech, resulting from the “hurt of his feelings”, rather than the incredulous irresponsibility with which the whole controversy has been approached both on YouTube’s side, and Steven’s for refusing to budge.

The truth is, this all could’ve been avoided had YouTube properly handled the situation. It could’ve been the cause of minimal grief for both Carlos Maza and Steven Crowder. But because YouTube has such a bad track-record of being reactionary, when they elsewise should be more considerate about the individual impact their decisions have on content creators, Crowder gets to shift the blame from his inability to assume responsibility for bigoted rhetoric and instead deflected back to an innocent Carlos Maza whose only sin was to think YouTube would be willing at all to lend him a hand at the expense of their selfish capitalistic ends.

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Blogger with a focus on internet culture, content creators, and occasionally politics.

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