Jessica Goodfellow
Jun 11, 2019

Google CEO on YouTube: “We aren’t quite where we want to be”

Sundar Pichai's comments come as YouTube CEO apologises for letting down LGBTQ community

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Google chief executive Sundar Pichai has said that YouTube needs to establish “better frameworks” around what it deduces as hate speech as criticism towards its content policies heats up.

“We aren’t quite where we want to be,” Pichai admitted in an interview with Axios reporter Ina Fried.

The chief executive was asked to give his view on a number of recent controversies at the video-sharing platform, namely its failure to spot and remove hate-peddling content, such as a recent Islamophobic, antisemitic, and homophobic video by a 14-year old girl that formed part of a Buzzfeed report.

“I don’t know all the details of this specific video, but in general none of us want harmful content on our platforms,” Pichai responded. “Last quarter alone we removed nine million videos from the platform.”

Pichai said the platform adopts the same ranking approach that Google search utilises; pushing quality content higher up in results in order to stifle “borderline content”, which he described as “content which doesn’t violate policies but which can still cause harm”.

“It’s a hard computer science problem, 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,” he added.

The interview, which aired on Sunday, was filmed before YouTube fell under further criticism last week for its decision not to remove right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder’s homophobic mockery of Vox journalist Carlos Maza.

The platform later decided to demonetise Crowder’s channel until he “addresses all of the issues with his channel”.

YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki yesterday (10 June) apologised to the LGBTQ community for its decision, and shed further light on why it “needs to be consistent” on its policies.

“I know that the decisions we made was very hurtful to the LGBTQ community and that wasn’t our intention at all,” Wojcicki said at the Code Conference. “That was not our intention, and we were really sorry about that, and I do want to explain why we made the decision we did.”

“It’s just from a policy standpoint we need to be consistent — if we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we need to take down,” she added.

Last week YouTube unveiled a new policy to crack down on extremist videos that advocate neo-Nazi and bigoted idealogies, as well as videos promoting obvious conspiracy theories.

The new policy will ban “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", according to a blog post announcing the update.

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