A Congressional hearing about hate crimes was streamed live on YouTube Tuesday. The Google-owned company had to disable comments on the stream after they were used to spread hateful messages.
The House Judiciary Committee hearing was focused on “hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism,” and the role technology plays in spreading those views. As with most hearings, it was streamed on social and video platforms, including the Judiciary Committee’s official YouTube channel.
It was during that livestream that users abused the platform’s commenting system to share hateful comments about the members and those testifying before the committee.
“Hate speech has no place on YouTube,” the company said in a statement published to its Twitter feed. “We’ve invested heavily in teams and technology dedicated to removing hateful comments / videos. Due to the presence of hateful comments, we disabled comments on the livestream of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.”
The comments epitomized the challenges facing technology companies as they balance community and free speech with the need to create a safe environment for viewers, content creators and advertisers.
YouTube has been taking more aggressive actions with regard to its comments section in recent months. A month ago, the company said it would disable comments on almost all videos that include children or minors, imposing strict rules on creators that want to keep comments sections open on their videos. Those rules include strict moderation policies.
Livestreams present an entirely different sort of challenge, with the video and comments all happening in real-time. While software can proactively stop many comments, it is hard, if not impossible, to prevent all hateful comments from sneaking through.
The House hearing was prompted, in part, by the mass shooting last month in New Zealand. That shooting was livestreamed on Facebook, with clips and copies of the shooting distributed widely across social and video platforms after the fact.