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YouTube flip-flops on suspending video blogger accused of harassment

Key Points
  • YouTube initially defends Steven Crowder's right to make money from the platform, calling his videos "hurtful" for homophobic and other comments but saying they didn't violate the rules.
  • Hours later, YouTube changes its mind.
Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube.
Michael Newberg | CNBC

YouTube has suspended the monetization of a popular user, Steven Crowder, for "a pattern of egregious actions that has harmed the broader community" — only hours after defending it.

The flip-flop shows how Google-owned YouTube struggles to define and enforce clear standards for content on its platform, as it faces pressure from lawmakers and the public to remove hateful content and misinformation.

Parent company Alphabet reported a slowdown in ad revenue growth in Q1, which some analysts believed was partly a result of algorithm changes meant to reduce the prominence of harmful content on YouTube.

Vox.com producer Carlos Maza, who identifies as gay, initially complained to YouTube on June 1, saying that Crowder, a popular YouTube user, made homophobic and racial slurs toward him in his videos. Crowder, whose account has 3.84 million subscribers, earns an estimated annual revenue of $81,000 from YouTube, according to social analytics company SocialBlade.com.

YouTube responded Tuesday, saying that after a four-day long "in-depth investigation" it determined Crowder's videos were "hurtful" but didn't violate any of the platform's policies.

Maza became the target of more harassment as a result of that decision, he told CNBC.com, adding that death threats from Crowder supporters had increased since Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, the company announced a new anti-harassment policy that will crack down on users and accounts that express supremacy over other groups. However, Crowder's videos remained available and YouTube continued to tell CNBC that they didn't violate the policies.

Two hours later, the company publicly tweeted at Maza, saying it had decided to suspend Crowder's monetization after all.

Adding to the confusion, YouTube then tweeted that Crowder had to stop selling t-shirts with offensive messages on them in order to be reinstated.

It then clarified later that Crowder would also have to address other problems, as well, in order to be reinstated.

YouTube declined to provide a statement on the flip-flop.