Eitan Charnoff
Business consultant by day, volunteer firefighter by night

Is YouTube unintentionally profiting from anti-Semitic remarks?

Credit: fortinbras. Licences under Creative Commons.
Credit: fortinbras. Licences under Creative Commons.

It seems that people are still paying and getting paid for anti-Semitic content on YouTube

There have been several recent stories about how various social media platforms not only continue to allow hateful and antisemitic content to flourish but in some cases directly profit from their promotion. Most recently, the JTA published a story about how a neo-nazi in the UK made thousands of dollars of content on YouTube. This isn’t new.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I don’t think any organization besides the Online Antisemitism Task Force is dedicating serious resources to address these matters. The Task Force feels it is our responsibility to put the multitudes of individual stories of online hate being covered in the media into a broader context as well as to suggest practical solutions to improve the situation. The following text is based on a series of publications (all cited in-line) over the past year documenting monetized Antisemitism and hate speech on YouTube.

The backstory

In January of 2017, YouTube launched Super Chat, and although, as Cnet put it “it may have been initially designed to let people playfully pelt YouTube celebs with water balloons”, The aforementioned feature allows users to pay to have their comments highlighted during a video live stream.

And what is the problem with that, one may ask. Well, for starters, Super Chat has provided a platform for some of darker elements on YouTube to not just express but promote twisted hateful and harmful views. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting (that led to the deaths of 11 worshippers in a synagogue), the Super Chat feature showed just how daunting it can be when users pay to promote their comments: The Super Chats began to display an increasingly disturbing anti-Semitic rhetoric. Certain YouTube users tapped Super Chat and paid to have anti-Semitic comments scroll alongside a livestream by a far-right YouTube celebrity: “If you want to know if the Synagogue shooting was a false flag, then check out the lucky Larry life insurance policies on those dead Jews,” one of the comments read according to the Wall Street Journal.

Normally, all these comments are meant to abide by the company’s terms of service, which prohibit hate speech. Nonetheless, a relevant investigation published by the Wall Street Journal revealed a plethora of extremist and antisemitic remarks on content from right-wing vloggers and conspiracy theorists. Some called the terrorist events in New Zealand, where 50 people lost their lives, an Israeli ‘false flag’ operation. According to The Times, one of the videos involved a chat, where it was allegedly claimed that the perpetrator of the Christchurch attack was a Mossad agent. Another $5 post said: ‘What’s your take on the fact that the murderer did not once mention Zionist influence in America or Europe?’

Comments can be generally promoted for as little as $2 and up to $500 in return for a specific comment appearing on the top of the ‘comment ticker’ displayed alongside the video content itself. The money generated is shared by the video producer, who keeps 70% and YouTube who keeps 30% of the revenue.

According to the Daily Mail, Amanda Bowman, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: ‘There is no excuse for accepting money from people who are promoting their own racism.’

Super Chat: A Convenient Force Multiplier for Antisemitism and Hate Speech

The use of Super Chat for such comments is another example of how antisemitic and other racist comments spreads online despite efforts at policing it. The major social media giants struggle to keep their platforms free of this toxic content.  It is worth noting that Facebook is leaps and bounds ahead of the other major social sites in removing hateful and antisemitic content.

Super Chat essentially emphasized the difficulty that YouTube has in monitoring and policing its content. This particular feature specifically found acceptance amongst the website’s far-right content creators and their viewers. Super Chat is quite literally monetizing racism and hate speech and it is being consistently abused in an alarming fashion that invalidates its own raison d’etre. On top of that, the company, and its creators, are (handsomely) profiting off these comments.

Drawing Red Lines

YouTube and all the other Social Media Platforms must take into consideration that some of their features (such as Super Chat) can be potentially leveraged and abused, in order to promote warped ideals, malicious platitudes and tragicomic conspiracy theories. All of that may be fine, and one can argue where the regulatory line should be, however, it should be clear to all that actual antisemitism and hate speech should be well on the other side of the fence of acceptability. In this particular instance, Super Chat not only creates new issues involving all types of hate speech, but it also promotes the axiom that the value of your voice is directly proportional to the amount of money you are able and willing to shell out on YouTube; only those who are willing to spend money on the Super Chat feature will likely catch the attention of the content creator. Due to the overly exploitative nature of these kinds of services, these comments may incentivise the creators to creatively circumvent content guidelines and produce even more derogatory content in order to raise their Super Chat revenue.

It is an unsettling but perhaps unavoidable fact that hateful discourse and sinister ideals have settled in comfortably into public video-sharing platforms such as YouTube. With the ubiquity of the internet, many extremists are able to promote their narratives (and agendas) and connect with other like-minded individuals, further worsening the situation; the web is often blamed for exacerbating hate and is often cited as a potential source of red-flags before people take part in radical and destructive behaviors. Super Chat openly allows those who are willing to pay to rule (and ruin?) its content.

YouTube should take a chapter out of Facebook’s book, and actively review its promoted content, as Facebook does with their ads. This and a clear definition of when that content is antisemitic or hate speech could make a big difference.

About the Author
Eitan Charnoff is a volunteer firefighter and medic who wears several hats, serving in senior roles in several NGOs including the Emergency Volunteer Project and The Online Antisemitism Task Force. Additionally he heads a management and development consultancy servicing a range of clients which have included medical technology companies, pro-democracy initiatives, minority rights organizations and Middle Eastern media outlets.
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