Just half an hour in, YouTube disabled the comments section on the livestream of the House Judiciary Committee’s Tuesday hearing on white nationalism and hate crimes after it was overrun by racist trolls.
Before the hearing had even started, users began flooding the comments of the House’s official stream with jokes about hate crimes and accusations that Jewish people had engineered the hearing. Some defended white nationalism. The bigoted rhetoric became even more extreme once the witnesses began giving their opening statements.
When Eileen Hershenov, a senior vice president for the Anti-Defamation League, gave the first set of remarks, trolls ridiculed her heritage and claimed she was lying under oath. Perhaps the worst comments came when the next witness, Mohammad Abu-Salha, described the pain of losing his two daughters at the hands of a man who had expressed anti-Muslim sentiments online. Trolls spuriously accused Abu-Salha’s family of being terrorists and spun conspiracy theories that he was an actor reading a script written by Jewish people in Hollywood. Others mocked his deceased daughters with Islamophobic epithets and blamed their deaths on him.
By the time Alexandria Walden, counsel for free expression and human rights at Google, began telling the committee that hate speech had no place on the company’s platforms, such as YouTube, the comments section for the livestream had been disabled. Comments for livestreams of the hearing by PBS NewsHour and Red Ice TV, a far-right YouTube channel, were also disabled.
A YouTube spokesperson provided a comment on the matter: “Hate speech has no place on YouTube. We’ve invested heavily in teams and technology dedicated to removing hateful comments and videos and we take action on them when flagged by our users. Due to the presence of hateful comments, we disabled comments on the livestream of today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.”
New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, brought up a Washington Post report on the racist YouTube comments later on in the hearing. “This just illustrates part of the problem we’re dealing with,” he said. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican who had previously suggested that people were too quick to label comments as racist, asked Nadler, “Could that be another hate hoax?” Gohmert then said he was just keeping an “open mind.”