/ 10 April 2019

YouTube comments disabled during US hate crime hearing

During the hearing
During the hearing, executives from Google and Facebook were questioned about their role in the spread of hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the US. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

YouTube disabled the comments sections of a US congressional hearing on white nationalism after it was overwhelmed by “hateful comments”.

The section was turned off about 30 minutes after the House Judiciary Committee began its Tuesday hearing about the spread of white nationalism and hate crimes in the United States.

“Hate speech has no place on YouTube. We’ve invested heavily in teams and technology dedicated to removing hateful comments/videos,” YouTube, a Google company, tweeted on Tuesday. “Due to the presence of hateful comments, we disabled comments on the livestream of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.”

During the hearing, executives from Google and Facebook were questioned about their role in the spread of hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the US.

Both social media companies said they were employing a combination of artificial intelligence and human employees to combat hate speech on their platforms.

Alexandria Walden, a counsel on human rights at Google, said the company was working to swiftly remove content that violates hate speech while diminishing the prominence of borderline cases.

The man accused of killing 50 people at two New Zealand mosques in March livestreamed himself on Facebook carrying out the attack, drawing more criticism of the company’s handling of hate.

Late last month, Facebook announced it was banning content that glorifies nationalism and separatism.

Emboldened by Trump

Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee and a leading Democrat, blamed US President Donald Trump for an attitude that “fans the flames with language that, whether intentional or not, may motivate and embolden white supremacist movements”.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said 78% of “domestic extremist murders” in the US last year were committed by white supremacists.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre watchdog group said hate crimes had reached a record high last year. The number of hate groups active in the US peaked at 1 020 in 2018, a seven-percent increase from 954 recorded in 2017. In 2018, at least 40 people were killed by those motivated by or attracted to far-right ideologies, the watchdog group wrote in its annual report.

“We are seeing a resurgence, where most of the crimes are from white extremists,” said Eileen Hershenov from the ADL, warning that social media was being used to spread hate.

Another witness testifying was Mohammad Abu-Salha, a doctor whose two daughters and son-in-law were murdered in a hate crime in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2015.

“I must be one of a few physicians, if not the only one, who read his own children’s murder autopsy reports and details,” Abu-Salha, a doctor, said. “They are seared into my memory.”

Abu-Salha’s testimony brought some of the members of Congress to tears.

Criticism over witness selection

Republicans were criticised, however, for some controversial witnesses they invited to testify including Candace Owens, an ultra-conservative commentator who recently appeared to justify some of Adolf Hitler’s domestic policies in remarks she later walked back from.

In a letter to Nadler, 20 organisations dealing with Muslim, South Asian, Sikh and Arab communities said the list of witnesses should have been more survivor-centred.

They added that the Republican witness list includes several individuals “whose actions and institutions have helped catalyse hate crimes, not abate them”.

The organisations singled out Owens for tweeting “LOL” [laughing out loud] after the Christchurch massacre and who was listed as an inspiration in the manifesto released by the attacker, they said. They also singled out Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, who they said used the slur “filthy Arabs” last year.

“It is unfathomable as to why witnesses who espouse hateful positions and represent racist institutions would be included given their active discrimination against Muslims and Arabs,” they said.

YouTube, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have reportedly doubled the rate at which they fight hate speech online. The internet giants are now assessing 89% of flagged content within 24 hours and removing 72% of the content deemed illegal, European Union officials said last week.

Last year, Facebook said it was using tools to automatically detect hate speech and hiring more Burmese-language speakers to review posts, after acknowledging it had been “too slow” to address anti-Rohingya hate speech in Myanmar. — Al Jazeera