YouTube’s purge of white su­prem­a­cist videos also hits anti-racism chan­nels

Lodi News-Sentinel - - BUSINESS - By Suhauna Hus­sain and Sa­man­tha Ma­sunaga

YouTube’s cam­paign against hate­ful and racist videos is claim­ing some un­in­tended vic­tims: re­searchers and ad­vo­cates work­ing to ex­pose racist hate­mon­gers.

A video pub­lished by the Southern Poverty Law Cen­ter was among those taken down af­ter the com­pany an­nounced plans Wed­nes­day to re­move more videos and chan­nels that advocate white supremacy.

The civil rights ad­vo­cacy group re­ceived an email no­ti­fi­ca­tion early Thurs­day that a video of jour­nal­ist Max Blu­men­thal in­ter­view­ing prom­i­nent Bri­tish Holo­caust de­nier David Irv­ing was re­moved from the SPLC’s YouTube chan­nel.

“We know that this might be dis­ap­point­ing, but it’s im­por­tant to us that YouTube is a safe place for all. If con­tent breaks our rules, we re­move it,” YouTube said in the email.

A video chan­nel tied to Cal State San Bernardino’s Cen­ter for the Study of Hate and Ex­trem­ism also dis­ap­peared from YouTube, the cen­ter’s di­rec­tor, Brian Levin, said. YouTube de­clined to con­firm whether the dozen or more aca­demic videos were re­moved as part of the re­cent crack­down, but af­ter the Los An­ge­les Times in­quired, it said Thurs­day that it had re­in­stated the chan­nel.

YouTube’s moves to start ban­ning con­tent pro­mot­ing big­otry were “pos­i­tive and well-in­tended,” but the ex­e­cu­tion has been botched, Levin said.

“Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence has not been honed to the level where it can dis­tin­guish be­tween con­tent that is pro­mot­ing the most odi­ous big­otry, and that which is re­port­ing and an­a­lyz­ing it,” he said.

That or­ga­ni­za­tions work­ing to raise aware­ness of hate speech may have been ca­su­al­ties of an ef­fort to re­duce the spread of hate speech was not sur­pris­ing to Heidi Beirich, di­rec­tor of the SPLC’s In­tel­li­gence Project. That kind of ironic col­lat­eral dam­age has of­ten re­sulted from tech com­pa­nies’ ef­forts to po­lice their plat­forms with soft­ware that re­lies on key­words and other am­bigu­ous sig­nals, backed up by hu­man mod­er­a­tors.

An­other anti-racist group, One Peo­ple’s Project, had an in­for­ma­tional video re­moved from its YouTube page af­ter Wed­nes­day’s pol­icy change, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Daily Beast. A high school his­tory teacher and a South African blog­ger were among others af­fected while at­tempt­ing to counter white supremacy.

“It in­di­cates that they have not re­fined well enough the dif­fer­ence be­tween some­one who is ex­plor­ing is­sues of racism and ha­tred and some­one who’s pro­mot­ing it,” Beirich said.

Other large in­ter­net plat­forms have fallen prey to the same types of er­rors. Try­ing to curb anti-gay posts, Face­book ac­ci­den­tally cen­sored posts by LGBT users who use terms such as “queer.” Last year, some LGBTQ cre­ators on YouTube raised con­cerns about their con­tent be­ing hid­den, re­stricted to adult users or de­mon­e­tized by the com­pany, the Verge re­ported.

Jes­sica J. Gon­za­lez, vice pres­i­dent of strat­egy at the me­dia ad­vo­cacy organizati­on Free Press, said it’s im­por­tant for tech com­pa­nies to rely on hu­man mod­er­a­tors as op­posed to al­go­rithms to train staff in cul­tural com­pe­tency and to en­sure their ap­peal pro­cesses are simple, transparen­t and rapid.

Gon­za­lez’s organizati­on helped de­velop a set of sug­gested con­tent mod­er­a­tion poli­cies. She said the sug­gested poli­cies were in­formed by the ex­pe­ri­ences of peo­ple whose posts have been taken down on Twit­ter and Face­book for calling out racism.

“A pol­icy that at­tempts to ban hate­ful con­tent is only as ef­fec­tive as the mech­a­nisms im­ple­mented to en­force such rules,” Color of Change Pres­i­dent Rashad Robinson said in a state­ment. “If ex­e­cuted poorly, this pol­icy could con­trib­ute to even more harm for black com­mu­ni­ties and other com­mu­ni­ties tar­geted by white su­prem­a­cist ide­olo­gies.”

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