Alt-right activists have a new way to make money from posting hate speech, and YouTube gets a cut.
The video-sharing service had recently demonetized loads of questionable video that could be deemed hate speech, but also it offered a new way for those same video creators to cash in. A new Super Chat feature lets users pay to post and feature comments--a new gadget that appears to be incentivizing right-wing channels to host content pushing the limits of YouTube's standards.
Reporters for BuzzFeed found one livestream where a user paid $100 to post the message "WHITE PRIDE WORLD WIDE" and another paying 20 Danish krone to post the racially charged message "#GasKikes." These payments went to the alt-right creator of the video, Andy Warski, who hosted a livestream with white nationalist Christopher Cantwell.
In another video, Warski hosts an hours-long question-and-answer in which notorious white nationalist Richard Spencer advocates for an ethically pure place, and one user paid 50 Canadian dollars to ask: "WILL GAYS BE ALLOWED IN THE ETHNOSTATE?" That video can still be watched on YouTube (with the comment visible at 3:40:38).
YouTube in a statement to BuzzFeed called such instances "edge cases" where the commenters are violating standards but the creators' videos themselves aren't considered hate speech.
YouTube unveiled its Super Chat feature in January 2017. The feature allows users to pay for comments that remain pinned to the top of chats for up to five hours. "For creators, this means Super Chat does double duty: keeping their conversations and connections with (super) fans meaningful and lively while also giving creators a new way to make money," reads a blog post by YouTube Product Manager Barbara Macdonald.
YouTube has long struggled with the balance of providing an open platform for a wide range of views and having the platform exploited for hate speech. The company faced boycotts in the past when advertising streamed with extremist content. Under Armour paused advertising earlier this year after its commercials streamed with content that violated its own guidelines.
YouTube has not revealed what cut it keeps from Super Chat payments, but it pockets about 45 percent of money spent on advertising on the platform, with the rest going to creators.
Super Chat differs, though, allowing commenters to post hateful messages by paying creators in exchange for a platform to post their controversial views. It allows creators to make money off content YouTube won't monetize through advertising but will host on the platform. And it appears creators make the most money from hosting controversial guests and from users posting hateful comments that would normally get flagged.
Experts say the features have underwritten a surge in extremist content, and that the Super Chat features, employed on hours-long livestreams, have increasingly been employed on alt-right channels. Joan Donovan, a researcher with Data & Society, told BuzzFeed that the combination of live broadcasts and instant monetization led to "a behavior pattern that moves more and more toward extremes."