Google CEO defends YouTube amid hate speech controversies: 'It's a hard societal problem'

Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended his company's efforts to cleanse YouTube of hate speech and misinformation as growing controversies continue to roil the popular video-sharing platform.

During an interview with "Axios on HBO," Pichai said the company has more work to do and told the news outlet that YouTube removed millions of videos in the last quarter that are in violation of its policies.

"It's a hard computer science problem," Pichai told Axios. "It's also a hard societal problem because we need better frameworks around what is hate speech, what’s not, and how do we as a company make those decisions at scale, and get it right without making mistakes."

The tech mogul also said that YouTube wants to bring aspects of its approach with Google Search, which ranks sites based on authoritativeness and expertise, to YouTube, as a way to ward off misinformation and hate speech on the video platform.

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"We aren't quite where we want to be. I think it's a genuinely a hard problem of how do you – YouTube has the scale of the entire Internet – and I think we are making a lot of progress," Pichai said. "The thing we are trying to do is bring more authoritative sources and fact-checks on videos which may be controversial. That's what we are trying to do and we are working hard to improve."

The video platform, which has 1.8 billion daily users, has been working in a range of ways over the last few years to scrub the site of hate-filled content and conspiracy theory videos as a rising chorus of critics and lawmakers have slammed the tech giant for allowing the site to become a breeding ground for white supremacy and other forms of discrimination.

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Last week, YouTube announced a crackdown on white supremacist content and conspiracy theories via several policy changes. The company now specifically prohibits any videos "alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status."

That would include, for example, videos promoting or glorifying Nazi ideology; the company's hate speech policy is explained here.

That hate speech policy update arrived amid controversy over Vox journalist Carlos Maza, who on May 30 detailed two years of homophobic and racist harassment to which he claims he's been subjected to by supporters of popular right-wing YouTube personality Steven Crowder.

In a range of videos, Crowder refers to Maza as an "angry little queer," a "gay Mexican," and "Mr. Lispy queer from Vox." He has also linked to sites selling T-shirts with slogans like "Socialism is for f**s."

Crowder, who has 3.9 million subscribers on the video platform, has rejected the notion that he was harassing Maza and has continued to post videos about the controversy. He's also gained at least 200,000 followers since YouTube announced its crackdown on hate speech.

Critics said YouTube bungled the entire incident.

First, the tech company said Crowder's videos did not run afoul of its rules. Then, in a reversal, YouTube demonetized Crowder's videos but left them up on the site, which didn't seem to satisfy people on either side of the issue. Tech industry watchers have said the policy change, combined with a hashtag campaign from supporters of Crowder, might have added to the harassment Maza was allegedly facing.

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Maza has said that YouTube doesn't care about its LGBTQ creators and instead simply uses the rainbow flag in its logo for Pride month as window dressing. His employer, Vox, has called on YouTube to do more to protect LGBTQ users and creators from harassment on its platform, writing in part:

"We are strong supporters of lively political debate and free speech and believe that turning a blind eye to abuse does nothing to advance either. ... The dangerous backlash against creators who dare to speak out against abuse is all the more explosive when your rules are confusing and applied inconsistently and without transparency. This Pride Month, change more than your logo. Clarify and enforce your harassment policy."

Fox News reached out to Google for comment and they referred back to their blog post on the incident.

The Mountain View, Calif. company is facing threats on a range of fronts this year.

The Justice Department is looking into potential antitrust violations by the search giant, several contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination have called for Google to be broken up and lawmakers are gearing up to probe the impact that Google and other tech firms have had on the decimation of local newspapers in the United States.

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