The Unending Race to the Bottom: How Criticism is Framed as Harassment


News has rippled through the YouTube entertainment space of the renewed commitment YouTube has made to fighting hate speech, following Vox media pundit Carlos Maza raising an absolute stink over being called a “lispy queer” by Steven Crowder, and telling anyone and everyone how offended he is that YouTube hasn’t done anything about it.

In the interests of not boring you with what I am almost certain is old news for you, I will endeavor to avoid the minutia of the Maza case, as that has been covered in depth by as many political commentators as exist online, and instead focus on the aims of Maza, and others, in their recent attempts to expand what exactly is defined as hate speech, with the presumed likely intent to censor their critics and market competitors.

It bears note that Maza’s primary complaint; that Crowder’s comments were homophobic in nature and thus fell under YouTube’s purview of hate speech, seem odd. Crowder, a Conservative comedian, has a history of insulting everyone, regardless of their political bent, but beyond this, in Maza’s specific case, he did not use any terms Maza did not himself use to describe himself on several occasions. Maza being called a “queer”, a “Gay Mexican”, etc. all of these are labels that Maza himself has embraced positively. However when addressed by them by Crowder, Maza has taken it upon himself to claim they are instead hate speech, despite Crowder having said nothing (at least that I have seen in the one and a half minute compilation of all the “insults” Crowder levied at him) about Maza’s sexuality that could be seen as explicitly disapproving, let alone insulting or harassing.

It seems that Maza believes that merely the concept of any negative intonation around the words “gay” or “queer” are inherently hate speech.

Now, of course, the very idea of hate speech in and of itself is a moral question begging to be answered by whoever believes themselves most righteous, but even if we excuse the self-serving nature of the term, and the naturally conflicting political interests that arise as to what gets labelled what when who is in power, we have to seriously question how someone can justify this level of, if I may borrow an Orwellian term, “doublethink”.

To hold these ideas in your head, this presumption that' “queer” and “gay” are positive terms when used them to describe oneself, but when someone with whom you disagree with uses them, they’re hate speech, cannot be seen as anything but ridiculous. The conversation about “what is hate speech” has shifted so far from anything even remotely resembling reason that we now have to entertain tone policing as corporate policy.

Massive, multi-biillion dollar corporate entities now bend their will on behalf of offended gay men who pearl clutch over nothing, all because they feel their conservative counterparts need to be tone-policed more effectively.

And as it turns out, they are being policed, with much more stringent guidelines, yet again.

We’ve seen bans and crackdowns already in the journalist sphere; Ford Fischer and Sandi Bachom, both independent journalists, have had their accounts negatively impacted, or else banned, for sharing what YouTube has labelled “borderline content”.

This isn’t limited to just Vox and Maza’s beef with Crowder though.

Recently Ian Scherr of CNET has decided to go after the video game commentary community. While making up a much smaller space of YouTube, it is noteworthy that Scherr has decided to take the same stance that groups such as Media Matters and Sleeping Giants have, attacking specific figures such as Jeremy Hambly, known online by his moniker “The Quartering”, and going after sponsors and advertisers. This of course, after he decided to paint these gaming channels in the most unflattering, negative light possible.

Scherr did all of this, presumably because these figures speak negatively about actions taken by corporate interests in the video game community, and because they voice their own negative opinions about what they consider to be bad business practices. Indeed, he goes on at length about the “negativity” in this space.

Of course, it takes no genius to note Scherr’s own blatant hypocrisy to engage in such negative, selective framing, making it seem like negative videos are all the rage, and that YouTube is building a hate machine, when in reality, these particular channels and videos enjoy a moderate amount of growth at best. They all compete for limited space on the platform, and YouTube’s algorithm does not particularly choose them over any other content. The algorithm functions based on what you watch. If you spend a great deal of time watching critics or news about video games, then yes, chances are you’ll be suggested videos by critics or about video games.

That said, there are several figures who promote positive messages in the video game sphere as well, many of whom do just as well as creators like Hambly. Mention of those is strangely absent from Scherr’s article.

The reason for discussing all of this is to note two things:

The first is that the comments made by Crowder, about Maza being a “lispy queer”, were made several years ago, when Crowder was a YouTube channel with 500k subscribers. Now, he has ballooned to almost four million. Vox, on the other hand, has been dealing with layoffs since at least last year, and is currently embroiled in a staff walk-out over a stalled out union agreement that has been in the works for 14 months, which presumably does not bode well for their bottom-line.

Likewise, CNET, a website that once made money off of advertisements and free downloads of shareware, has now moved to be more media oriented, in a vastly over-saturated media market. This attack on the YouTube gaming sphere was done despite several of the controversial figures mentioned in Scherr’s article having been operating for at least three years.

The second is that these efforts are attempting to paint criticism, insults and ribbing as “targeted harassment” and “attacks”, all in an attempt to deplatform the figures in question. Figures who also compete in the media market. Figures who now have come to dominate the market well above those who are criticizing them, despite starting out in positions far lower.

This reeks to me of desperate opportunism; this seems like an attempt to bandwagon competitors in the market, people who listen to what people want to hear and provide them entertainment that they enjoy, and have them forcefully removed from the competition because those who are struggling to compete don’t like the fact that they’ve been out-foxed.

In doing so, they are appealing to the broadest possible authority to limit the threshold for what is acceptable in what they perceive is their own interest, due to a shared political alignment with the staff at YouTube presumably offering them shelter. Indeed, with YouTube’s latest agreement banning anyone or anything related to prejudice without context, coupled with their decision to “Push more authoritative sources”, it seems that the platform has finally rasped its last breath of being a place for independent creators and journalists, and has given over control fully to corporate interests, the same sort of interests that the platform was made to originally circumvent.

This is the beginning of YouTube’s long death. The more milquetoast and boring it becomes, the more interesting that its competitors will inevitably be as a response, and the more resilient other platforms will become in the meantime to corporate control.

If Maza and Scherr have won anything in this fight, it is a Pyrrhic victory, one that will likely, at least in my opinion, see their own efforts likewise sabotaged for similar reasons down the line, now that they have demanded the justification to do so. Meanwhile, their competitors, who outfoxed them the first time, will simply continue doing so, finding new methods to stay successful in the ever changing online marketplace.