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YouTube declines to ban video with anti-Asian lyrics amid staff outcry

YouTube’s execs agree hip-hop artist YG's song is “highly offensive” and “painful for many to watch,” but it will not be removed.
Dado Ruvic / Reuters file

YouTube is declining to ban a video by hip-hop artist YG containing anti-Asian lyrics, despite a drive among staffers to have the song, “Meet the Flockers,” removed from the platform.

The rapper’s 2014 song is about how to pull off a burglary and begins with a verse recommending Asians as the easiest targets for a home invasion: “First, you find a house and scope it out / Find a Chinese neighborhood / ‘Cause they don’t believe in bank accounts.” (“Flockers” is slang for thieves.)

Amid the current wave of attention to anti-Asian bias and violence, heated comments on YouTube company message boards led to YouTube leaders agreeing to hold a town hall over the matter on Thursday, according to a Bloomberg news report.

The upshot of the meeting was that YouTube’s execs agree the song is “highly offensive” and “painful for many to watch,” but it will not be removed. A comment on a company message board directed at management read: “This is your perfect opportunity to demonstrate your leadership as a lead for ‘Racial Justice Initiative.'” According to Bloomberg, the comment had more than 430 up-votes going into the town hall meeting organized by YouTube’s head of diversity and inclusion.

In a memo to staff explaining the rationale for not barring the YG video, management wrote: “We’ll start by saying we find this video to be highly offensive and understand it is painful for many to watch, including many in Trust & Safety and especially given the ongoing violence against the Asian community. One of the biggest challenges of working in Trust & Safety is that sometimes we have to leave up content we disagree with or find offensive… Sometimes videos that otherwise violate our policies are allowed to stay up if they have Educational, Documentary, Scientific or Artistic context.

“In this case, this video receives an EDSA exception as a musical performance,” YouTube’s memo to staffers continued. “While EDSA is not a free pass for any content, there are likely thousands of music videos that would otherwise violate policies including Sex & Nudity, Violent or Graphic Content and Hate Speech were it not for these sorts of EDSA exceptions.

As a result, removing this video would have far-reaching implications for other musical content containing similarly violent or offensive lyrics, in genres ranging from rap to rock. While we debated this decision at length amongst our policy experts, we made the difficult decision to leave the video up to enforce our policy consistently and avoid setting a precedent that may lead to us having to remove a lot of other music on YouTube.”

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