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Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, has acknowledged that the platform’s policy of censoring legal content that it deems to be “harmful” is controversial and urged governments to step in and pass stronger speech laws.
Wojcicki made the comments in an interview with the Hamburg-based independent broadcaster TIDETVhamburg where she was asked about how the platform navigates the “minefield” or complying with national laws while also keeping advertisers happy and users interested.
“We work around the globe, and you’re right, certainly there are many different laws and many different jurisdictions, and we…enforce the laws of the various jurisdictions around speech or what’s considered safe or not safe,” Wojcicki said.
She added that there’s been little controversy when YouTube enforces these laws. Instead, the controversy arises when YouTube decides to censor speech that it deems to be “harmful” but “not illegal,” particularly in relation to COVID.
“What has been the controversial part is when there is content that would be deemed as harmful but yet is not illegal,” Wojcicki said. “An example of that, for example, would be COVID. I’m not aware of there being laws by governments saying around COVID in terms of not being able to debate the efficacy of masks or where the virus came from or the right treatment or proposal but yet there was a lot of pressure and concern about us distributing misinformation that went against what was the standard and accepted medical knowledge. And so this category of harmful but…legal has been, I think, where most of the discussion has been.”
Despite admitting that the way YouTube censors legal content is controversial, Wojcicki pushed for stronger speech laws that would accommodate this censorship.
“Our recommendation, if governments want to have more control over online speech is to pass laws to have that be very cleanly and clearly defined so that we can implement it,” Wojcicki said.
This is the latest of several calls Wojcicki has made in support of censoring legal speech that’s deemed to be “harmful.” She’s also called for the US government to offer guidance on “hate speech” and had a secret meeting with the Irish Prime Minister to discuss content moderation on YouTube.
Outside of her calls for stronger guidance and laws from governments, Wojcicki recently wrote on YouTube’s official blog that: “Tackling misinformation and other harmful content is a top priority.”