YouTube filled with misogyny and harassment, creators say

LOS ANGELES — In April 2016, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki took the stage in front of rows of creators at the company’s second “Creator Summit” in Los Angeles. The event was a gathering of some of the internet’s biggest stars, and Wojcicki was there to listen to their concerns and feedback.

She began by touting YouTube’s advertising growth and the company’s plans to expand its original programming. But when she opened up to questions, she was met with a barrage of criticism from female designers.

The female creators weren’t doing well, according to an account of the meeting in a new book, “Like, Comment, Subscribe: Inside YouTube’s Chaotic Rise to World Domination” by Bloomberg tech journalist Mark Bergen. Many were victims of vicious bullying, bullying and harassment, he recounts. Toxicity on the platform was escalating, they said, and the network attacks they faced online were growing more threatening.

Bergen’s book details how a designer spoke out against rampant bullying and explained she was terrified after another YouTuber made hostile videos about her, ‘doxed’ her (posted her personal info online ) and sent waves of angry followers to attack. Another designer took the mic and said she was facing similar issues.

Ingrid Nilsen, a popular beauty vlogger, was appalled when Wojcicki offered what she saw as empty sympathy with no commitment to resolve the issue, according to Bergen. “YouTube just didn’t have an answer,” Bergen quoted her as saying. “They knew the mess was really big.”

In interviews with The Washington Post, creators and experts say these issues are still a problem, despite updated harassment policies rolled out in 2019.

A report released last month by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit, said harassment against women is on the rise on YouTube. Although the platform recently banned online men’s rights influencer Andrew Tate (after amassing millions in advertising revenue), other channels espousing a similar ideology regularly post and use the platform to increase their audience, the report concludes. Some channels are also uploading Tate content to YouTube shorts, YouTube’s answer to TikTok.

“Misogyny is alive and well on YouTube,” the center’s report revealed. “Videos pushing misinformation, hate and outright conspiracies targeting women are often monetized.”

Wojcicki declined to comment. YouTube spokesperson Jack Malon said the platform is dedicated to protecting itself from harassment.

“Harassment and cyberbullying are not allowed on YouTube, and we have clear policies that prohibit targeting any individual with prolonged and malicious threats or insults based on attributes such as their gender identity and expression,” said he declared. “We are committed to rigorously applying these policies equally for all creators, and encourage any user to report content that they believe violates our Community Guidelines.”

But in interviews with The Post, seven creators detailed how misogynistic creators mobilize their audiences to attack certain female creators. If a creative woman goes viral, they said, she will undoubtedly be the subject of a cascade of hateful comments. Posting to YouTube as a creator can feel like walking through a minefield, influencers told The Post.

“YouTube will turn a blind eye to anything that brings a lot of viewers to the platform,” said Abelina Sabrina Rios, a political comedian YouTuber in Los Angeles. “They’re aware that people on their platform are going to blatantly spew sexist and misogynistic stuff and it becomes fertile ground and they’re totally okay with that because it gets a lot of viewers.”

The creators said Amber Heard’s defamation lawsuit against Johnny Depp was a pivotal moment in the landscape of online harassment, emboldening misogynistic YouTubers and allowing them to collectively amass millions of subscribers. Depp won his case against Heard. The creators said the trial and verdict normalized a level of hate that has become commonplace on the platform.

“I was often called Amber Heard during the trial,” Rios said. “I’ve had people tell me they want me dead. It’s constant. I always add new filters to my comments, because that’s the only thing I can do.

Creators who have leaned into anti-Amber Heard content have seen their viewership skyrocket by posting videos that experts say are misogynistic, amassing money from merchandise sales and ad revenue in the process .

Matthew Lewis, a YouTuber from Tennessee known online as ThatUmbrellaGuy, grew his subscriber count to over 400,000 subscribers, mostly by posting anti-Amber Heard content. Depp’s lawyer said he had been on the phone with several YouTubers, including Lewis.

“YouTube channels like ThatUmbrellaGuy are no exception; they are the rule,” said Christopher Bouzy, founder and CEO of Bot Sentinel, a disinformation research firm. “YouTube is telling women that men have the right to post and monetize videos that are insulting and demeaning to women. ThatUmbrellaGuy’s YouTube videos have received over 116 million views and YouTube has refused to take action.

Lewis did not respond directly to a request for comment. He then posted a video saying that in the past years he hadn’t exclusively posted content related to Amber Heard, but had posted content about the comics. In a tweet after The Post sent him questions, he acknowledged his role as a leader of Comicsgate, a campaign starting in 2018 that opposed diversity in the comics world.

Many of Lewis’ previous titles include attacks on “social justice warriors” and “woke” culture, such as “SJWs Are Ruining Comics: 2019 Comics Industry Figures REVEAL He there is NO WOKENESS coming back!” and “SJWs never learn: SJWs learn a BAD LESSON from studying, hilariously missing THEY ARE the BAD GUYS!”

High profile women who talk about sexism or who are seen as too progressive are frequent targets of misogynistic YouTubers. Earlier this year, after a public outcry and a Bot Sentinel report, YouTube began downgrading anti-Meghan Markle channels and videos devoted to misogynistic comments about Markle, which was widely discussed in the press. British as well as on the web since she married Prince Harry.

The creators said they were frustrated that YouTube didn’t do more. They say the company views the harassment and hate campaigns as a “drama”.

“YouTube turns a blind eye when some of their biggest creators spew misogyny,” Rios said. “So the people in their comments really take that message and go out and harass the female designers, or they inspire the little designers and these little designers keep harassing the women and the cycle continues.”

Alivia D’Andrea, a wellness and self-improvement YouTube star in Los Angeles with more than 2.3 million subscribers, echoed those frustrations. Certain “commentary” channels, where YouTubers give their opinion or analysis on a variety of topics, are particularly disturbing, she said. “Commentary YouTube channels, especially fitness ones, will comment on my videos, react and analyze exactly what was wrong with me,” she said. Critics of her body are hurtful, she says.

People in D’Andrea’s comments section are emboldened by these videos. D’Andrea said YouTube commentators once used a screenshot of her feet on a plane to determine which airline she was flying on which date, then used that information to locate her school and called the school to get their class schedule. “I’m sometimes scared, I hope nobody will know where I live,” she said.

Akilah Hughes started making videos on YouTube in 2007 but quit the platform, in part, she says, because of the racist and misogynistic attacks she endured. She attended meetings with Wojcicki in 2016 and is appalled at the lack of progress on the platform.

Hughes and other creators said YouTube could do several things to make it a safer platform for women, like adding more robust controls to the comments section, banning certain bad actors and those whose channels are dedicated. only to attack specific women, demote misogynistic content, and provide more resources for female YouTubers who are being harassed online.

“The thing is, success on YouTube for women isn’t the same as it is for men,” she said. “It’s a target on your back the moment you succeed on YouTube as a woman. YouTube wants you to post all the time, they want you to succeed, but they won’t protect you once you get it.

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