On YouTube, engagement is king. The platform, which thrives on its dual status as both a social media network and news space, pays creators handsomely for making videos that get large amounts of views and interactions from any given audience. To keep the worst out, the sheer influx of content is moderated with a series of community guidelines that are intended to “make YouTube a safer community” while still giving creators freedom, according to the site.
But a new investigation by research firm Bot Sentinel found at least two dozen YouTube channels with “flagrant” policy violations were allowed to continue posting without censure from YouTube moderators. Even more alarming: they’re still getting paid.
In an exclusive interview, Bot Sentinel founder Christopher Bouzy tells Rolling Stone that the report uncovered a pattern of unchecked hate speech, misogyny, racism, and targeted harassment singularly focused on famous and identifiable women. The most mentioned women in the channels were Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and actress Amber Heard, both of whom have remained extremely vocal about the long-term mental and emotional effects of targeted harassment. (While the report notes that Bot Sentinel has been hired by Heard’s team in the past, to determine how much of the online hate was organic, they write that “no one hired Bot Sentinel to compile and publish this report.”) In a review of just five single-purpose hate channels focused entirely on Markle, Bot Sentinel estimated the channels receive a combined $42,000 in monthly payments. Since all of the videos run with advertisements, it is understood that YouTube also receives a share of the profits.
“YouTube is to blame,” Bouzy tells Rolling Stone. “A lot of these folks would not do what they’re doing if YouTube was not rewarding them. And let’s be clear here, they are rewarding them. When you allow these folks to monetize this content and you’re the company that is paying them, at the end of the day, you’re pretty much facilitating the harassment, the vitriol that we’re currently seeing.”
When contacted for comment, a YouTube spokesperson, who has not seen the report, said that the site takes these sorts of violations seriously: “We’re committed to rigorously enforcing these policies equally for all creators, and encourage any user to flag content they believe violates our Community Guidelines.”
Under Youtube’s current community guidelines, the site prohibits “malicious insults” focused on famous or identifiable individuals or based on people’s appearances or status (like race, or being a survivor of domestic abuse). But according to the report, channels that focus their content on reactions and opinions of Markle and Heard are often allowed to post defamatory content entirely unchecked. Others employ deceptive practices, like including thumbnails that don’t correlate to a video’s content in order to get past moderators. According to the report, these channels aren’t slipping under the radar — they’re commonplace.
At least 29 YouTube channels were allowed to monetize content that contained harmful, defamatory, and threatening language toward Markle, according to the report. An additional 22 channels posted at least 30,000 videos that made up 80 percent of all negative anti-Meghan titles on YouTube, like “Booed At Buckingkham! Meg puce with rage as Mourners screamed LOUDEST BOOED Meg BACK as Queen’s dead” and “SHE IS UNWELCOME! Meghan CAN’T HIDE DESPAIR Over ABSENCE In Scotland After QUEEN DEATH REPORT.”