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Susan Wojcicki apologizes, sort of

June 10 · Issue #339 · View online
The Interface
Hello from extremely hot Phoenix, AZ, where each June day offers a hellish preview of our future with climate change. I’m reporting live from the Code Conference, where I’m teaming up with colleagues at Recode and to interview key figures in technology on stage. In today’s edition I plan to focus on the continuing drama unfolding at YouTube, which Susan Wojcicki addressed at length today in an interview on stage. Tomorrow I’ll share thoughts on my discussion with Facebook’s Andrew “Boz” Bosworth and Adam Mosseri.
At the end of 2018, as I gathered predictions for the coming year, I predicted that 2019 would be hard on Instagram. “I won’t guess the specifics, but I do think 2019 will see some sort of reckoning over Instagram,” I wrote. “Its charismatic founders are gone, the press is waking up to some long-simmering issues there, and there’s an increasing sense among a certain elite that looking at the app all the time is bad for you.”
Six months later, this prediction looks basically totally wrong — unless you swap out “Instagram” for “YouTube,” in which case it’s basically dead on.
Since the last edition of The Interface, scrutiny on Google’s giant video platform has continued to intensify. To recap:
If you might enjoy an audio recap, I had a lot to say about the harassment and supremacist content controversies on a special Friday edition of The Vergecast.
Taken together, it feels like a full-on reckoning — one that is overdue. In her on-stage remarks Monday, Wojcicki clearly conveyed the gravity of the issues she now faces. She frequently paused before answering questions, and when faced with something particularly tricky — such as Peter Kafka’s question about what would happen if YouTube was split off from Google — she offered a plainspoken “I don’t know.”
The news coming out of the session was that she apologized for the company’s treatment of the Maza-Crowder controversy, noting that it had hurt the LGBTQ community, which YouTube takes pride (sorry) in supporting.
But it was a strange apology, in my opinion, because Wojcicki stood behind the company’s decision to leave Crowder’s video up. In so doing, the apology became one of those “sorry if you were offended” type things. Ina Fried has the quote:
“I know the decision we made was very hurtful to LGBTQ community,” Wojcicki said, speaking at Code Conference. “That was not our intention at all.”
But intentions hardly matter in a situation like this. The core question remained — how is it that you have a public policy of disallowing “hurtful” content, and can still decide to host content calling one of your creators a “lispy queer”?
I spoke briefly with Wojcicki on Monday afternoon, and she told me that the company plans to address that question when it revists its harassment policies later this year. It seems that the policies we have all been quoting in our articles are not the ones that YouTube itself has been using at it evaluates the videos in question — introducing yet more confusion into what the actual rules of the road at YouTube are at any one time. (On stage, Wojcicki said that YouTube had decided Crowder’s videos were not “malicious” — a word that appears just once in its online bullying policy, as an adjective, and is not further defined.)
The more I reflect on YouTube’s current moment, the more I believe that the outrage against it stems from the company’s lack of accountability to the world. Whatever decisions YouTube makes, the world has no real recourse, even as creators like Maza suffer real-world harm in the meantime. We focus on what the policies say, and which of them the company chooses to enforce, but the larger story in my mind is the way that YouTube became a quasi-state without also developing a credible system of justice.
The outrage against YouTube will not be quelled through a clearer statement of its rules, or through an adjustment to them. Its size is too big, its decisions too consequential, and its executives too unaccountable to those that they represent. If Google hopes to fix what’s wrong with YouTube in the long term, I would start the discussion there.

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'Uncharted territory': WeChat's new role in Australian public life raises difficult questions
Meet the angry gaming YouTubers who turn outrage into views
Facebook Plans Outside Foundation to Govern Cryptocurrency ($)
Google rewards reputable reporting, not left-wing politics
'I've paid a huge personal cost:' Google walkout organizer resigns over alleged retaliation
Stanford engineers make editing video as easy as editing text
Snapchat is experimenting with an events feature of its own
Snapchat Is Releasing Special Landmarkers From LGBTQ Lens Creators for Pride Month
Social media has a mob violence problem. Could soccer hooliganism prevention offer a model for solving it?
YouTube Is a Very Bad Judge and Jury
The Roots of Big Tech Run Disturbingly Deep
Apple’s new sign-in button is built for a post-Cambridge Analytica world
The Return of Fake News—and Lessons From Spam
And finally ...
Thanks to Asa Mahat for capturing this image of Boz's shoes!
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, and your questions for former deputy US chief technology officer Nicole Wong, former Google head of communications Jessica Powell, and Chaos Monkeys author Antonio García Martínez. I interview them Tuesday at Code!
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