By Melissa Ryan
Social media empowers bullies. The tech platforms have repeatedly shown that they’ll side with bullies over the rest of us unless a critical mass of public pressure shames them into doing otherwise. The far right, who use hate, trolling, and harassment to build political power and silence dissenting voices, have benefitted mightily from this ecosystem.
Last week Vox reporter and YouTube content creator Carlos Maza posted a twitter thread detailing a multi-year harassment campaign towards him from far-right social media personality Steven Crowder. Maza explained that the harassment he received came from videos of Crowder deploying “repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity.” Maza added “I’ve been called an anchor baby, a lispy queer, a Mexican, etc. These videos get millions of views on YouTube. Every time one gets posted, I wake up to a wall of homophobic/racist abuse on Instagram and Twitter.” Maza also says he was doxxed last year.
Maza places the blame squarely on YouTube, and their refusal to do anything about the harassment. He also lays out the reason why YouTube won’t enforce their own policy saying “But YouTube is never going to actually enforce its policies. Because Crowder has 3 million YouTube subscribers, and enforcing their rules would get them accused of anti-conservative bias.” YouTube isn’t the only platform to blame though. As Media Matters’ Natalie Martinez pointed out on Twitter, Facebook also hosts (and profits from) Crowder’s content.
Youtube’s botched response to Maza’s now viral plea is typical of what we see from tech companies as they attempt to fix PR crises of their own making. YouTube temporarily demonetized Crowder’s videos, but hasn’t taken down the harassing content. They’ve also rolled out a new policy on extremist content but racist homophobic harassment like the kind Maza is experiencing is still allowed.
But the Frog Squad are out in full force attempting to game the refs and bully the tech companies back into submission. Crowder and the right got, #Voxadpocolypse, a campaign claiming that Maza’s Tweets were part of a broader strategy by his employer to kill independent content creators on YouTube, trending on Twitter. Ted Cruz, who never misses an opportunity to let his supporters know that he stands for the rights of homophobes, racists, and misogynists to harass and bully everyone else on the Internet, joined in. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson covered the outrage in primetime. The far-right outrage machine has kicked into overdrive, advocating for their right to bully and harass everyone else on the Internet to their heart’s content.
A word about YouTube harassment, based on my personal experience, it’s vile. I haven’t dealt with the volume of harassment that Maza has but I have had a far-right YouTuber take videos I’ve done, steal the content, and use it to create misogynist, harassing videos about me. It’s a disturbing experience to have another person steal your content and upload it on their own channel, solely as a vehicle to incite harassment against you. And it works as intended. Whenever someone makes a video about me I get harassed for weeks across multiple platforms.
The harassment, threats to my safety, and the inability to get the content removed were bad enough that I no longer do videos or TV. Which is, of course, the point. The bullies win again, empowered by the social media platforms they’ve managed to weaponize. But Maza, whose job involves creating YouTube content for Vox, doesn’t even have that option.
Carlos Maza’s life will be forever changed for speaking out. The far right will see to it. The memeification and dehumanization of Maza is happening in real time all across the Internet. They’re whining about “free speech” and “censorship” but their goal is to harass Maza into silence and prevent the next person from saying anything at all.
It’s long past time for Big Tech to stop empowering the bullies. The platforms need to put the free speech, safety, and human rights of the vast majority of their users first. I’m tired of hearing arguments about free speech from a political coalition that has near unchecked political power and social capital. Especially when I consider all the amazing voices we’ve lost or never heard at all because of bullies and the social media companies who enable their behavior.