The Challenge of Making YouTube a Better Place
Susan Wojcicki has a difficult job. As CEO of YouTube, she leads one of Alphabet’s biggest money makers and most popular platforms. But the company she helms is very different than the YouTube that launched in 2005, when the mission was “Broadcast Yourself.” In recent years, and particularly since the 2016 election in the US, the service has found itself teeming with trolls and bad information.
“If we look at openness and all the advantages it’s had, it’s tremendous,” Wojcicki said at the WIRED25 Summit on Monday afternoon. “It’s really valuable, but we have to marry that with responsibility.”
Part of taking responsibility meant hiring content moderators, some 10,000 of them, to help remove the videos that violate YouTube’s community guidelines. In the second quarter of this year, the company, using a mix of those moderators and AI, removed 10 million videos that violated the guidelines; nearly 75 percent were removed without a single view.
After more than a decade working on Google’s advertising products—AdWords, AdSense, DoubleClick, Google Analytics—Wojcicki took over as YouTube chief in 2014, just as the platform was cementing its place as the dominant destination for online video. It was also a time when the service was becoming a home to not only online video stars like Lilly Singh and Markiplier, but also controversial figures like PewDiePie, and to a host of conspiracy theory-peddling channels, like InfoWars.
In the two years since, as fake news proliferated and the video-sharing service generated millions of dollars in ad revenue, YouTube, under Wokcicki, made strides to improve the service, like implementing a tool that helps battle conspiracy theories on the service and increased (but also inconsistent) content moderation. (It also banned InfoWars’ Alex Jones.) That’s a long way from “Me at the Zoo.”
“The last 18 months I really think about as our growing up years,” Wojcicki said, adding that during that time YouTube has put a lot of resources into figuring out how to handle that growth responsibly. “We’re committed to that. … I think we’re in a much better place.”
Such are the headaches when you have a service with more than 1 billion monthly active users pumping out hundreds of hours of content every minute. Like Facebook and Twitter, YouTube has found itself stuck in an ever-escalating battle over free speech and what kind of content should be given a platform—Logan Paul’s trip to Japan’s “suicide forest”? Pontification from the so-called alt-right? Moreover, even with good moderation guidelines in place, enforcement on a service with millions of users can often look like a whack-a-mole crapshoot, one that gets more complex when you consider YouTube is now in 91 countries and 80 languages.
But, as Wojcicki sees it, there is room for healthy growth, both inside her company and outside. Beyond YouTube, Wojcicki is committed to increasing diversity in Silicon Valley. The internet has changed the world, rapidly, and if a wide range of people aren’t involved in that change, the consequences could be dire.
“Power is something that is passed on,” Wojcicki said. “I really think it’s important for people who are in positions of power to realize that and to think as they hand it out to the next generation, to think and encourage a more diverse group in tech.”