YouTube shut down comments on House hearing on white nationalism

“Look at Google deciding for us what we can’t see!” one commenter wrote on Fox Business channel’s YouTube stream of the hearing. By Tuesday afternoon, the comment feature on the Fox Business live stream was also disabled.

Google confirmed to CNBC that the feature was disabled “[d]ue to the presence of hateful comments.”

“Hate speech has no place on YouTube. We’ve invested heavily in teams and technology dedicated to removing hateful comments and videos and we take action on them when flagged by our users,” the company said in a statement.

The incident is a microcosm of the problem YouTube and other social media platforms have faced when it comes to removing hate speech. The House Judiciary Committee called Tuesday’s hearing to discuss tech’s role in the spread of white nationalism and possible solutions, but the comments on its own stream underscore the complexity of that issue.

As YouTube apparently worked to disable the chat function on the House’s official livestream, Alexandria Walden, a Google counsel for free expression and human rights, told the committee that users are bound to the company’s community guidelines.

“I want to state clearly that every Google product that hosts user content prohibits incitement of violence and hate speech against individuals or groups based on specified attributes,” Walden said in her opening statement. “We view both as grave social ills, so our policies go beyond what the U.S. requires.”

Walden explained YouTube’s system for flagging and removing content it deems harmful, which involves both human and machine intervention. But as recently as last month, these systems were tested following the shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead. Copies of a video of one of the shootings proliferated across the platform, with YouTube unable to keep up with the pace of uploads.

YouTube’s decision to shut down comments on the House’s stream did not prevent users from finding other ways to share their views on the topic, whether by commenting on other streams or sharing their own. One channel called Red Ice TV, which is run by people who the Anti-Defamation League describe as white supremacists, hosted its own stream of the hearing overlaid with its own commentary.

Google did not immediately respond to questions about why comments on other streams of the hearing were still active, but they appeared to be disabled by Tuesday afternoon.

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