YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki talks censorship on “60 Minutes”

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki talks censorship on “60 Minutes”

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki appeared on CBS's '60 Minutes' on Sunday, and instead of delving into all of the problems that YouTube creators are facing on the platform as a result of increasing restrictions, host Leslie Stahl wanted to talk about all the ways that YouTube could be censored even further.

The interview: Opening the show, Stahl said that YouTube has “come under increasing scrutiny, accused of propagating white supremacy, peddling conspiracy theories, and profiting from it all.”

During the interview, Wojcicki announced that YouTube has removed “9 million videos” in just the last quarter. Many YouTubers have had their videos demonetized or deleted for engaging in what YouTube says is hate speech, and even those creating videos about historic events like World War II have had their videos removed as the algorithm has suggested that their content is hateful.

“You recently tightened your policy on hate speech,” Stahl said. “Why… why'd you wait so long?” she asked.

“Well, we have had hate policies since the very beginning of YouTube. And we…” Wojcicki answered but Stahl cut her off.

“But pretty ineffective,” Stahl cut in.

Wojcicki showed Stahl two videos to show how hard it is to moderate videos on the platform. In one video, Wojcicki played a clip of a man being physically abused and kicked in the head in Syria. Wojcicki allowed the video to remain on the platform despite the violence because the video was “uploaded by a group that is trying to expose the violence.”

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Wojcicki then showed a video of Hitler and marching Nazi soldiers and that looked like “totally historical footage that you would see on the History Channel,” Stahl said. But Wojcicki explained that they removed it because in the corner of the video it contained the number “1418.”

“1418 is code used by white supremacists to identify one another,” Stahl suggests. Wojcicki explained that they work with “experts” so they know things like the “hand signals, the messaging, the flags, the songs” that can be used to identify white supremacists.

Wojcicki said, “You can go too far and that can become censorship. And so we have been working really hard to figure out what's the right way to balance responsibility with freedom of speech.”

“You're not operating under some… freedom of speech mandate. You get to pick,” Stahl said.

“We do. But we think there's a lot of benefit from being able to hear from groups and underrepresented groups that otherwise we never would have heard from,” Wojcicki responded.

“And what about medical quackery on the site? Like turmeric can reverse cancer; bleach cures autism; vaccines cause autism,” Stahl said. “The law under 230 does not hold you responsible for user-generated content. But in that you recommend things, sometimes 1,000 times, sometimes 5,000 times, shouldn't you be held responsible for that material because you recommend it?”

Wojcicki: “Well, our systems wouldn't work without recommending. And so if…”

Stahl: “I'm not saying don't recommend. I'm just saying be responsible for when you recommend so many times.”

Wojcicki: “If we were held liable for every single piece of content that we recommended, we would have to review it.”

"As you know, conservatives think that you discriminate against them," Stahl told Wojcicki, who replied: "Well, first of all, there are lots of very successful conservative creators on YouTube... Our systems, our algorithms, they don't have any concept of understanding what's a Democrat, what's a Republican. They don't have any concept of political bias built into them in any way. And we do hear this criticism from all sides. We also have people who come from more liberal backgrounds who complain about discrimination. And so I think that no matter who you are, we are trying to enforce our policies in a consistent way for everybody."

Stahl then asked Wojcicki, "Have you taken down any of President Trump's ads at all?"

"There are ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube." When pressed for an example, Wojcicki said, "Well, they're available in our transparency report."

'60 Minutes' reviewed the archive to learn more about President Trump's political ads: "We found that over 300 video ads were taken down by Google and YouTube, mostly over the summer, for violating company policy. But the archive doesn't detail what policy was violated. Was it copyright violation? A lie or extreme inaccuracy? Faulty grammar? Bad punctuation? It's unclear. The ads determined to be offending are not available to be screened. We found very little transparency in the transparency report."

Watch the full interview on CBS.

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