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Why Do Advertisers Tolerate Use of the N-Word on YouTube?

If you search for the n-word on YouTube, it returns "about 7,410 results" -- perhaps less than you'd expect given that the site hosts billions of hours of content. You don't have to watch too many videos on YouTube, however, to discover that this epithet -- banned from polite conversation for several decades -- is enjoying a renaissance on YouTube's comment boards. YouTube enjoys the dubious distinction of being the last major media outlet where the n-word isn't just said out loud, but published frequently and with glee by unapologetic racists.

Yet advertisers don't seem to mind. YouTube has become a routine "buy" for many advertisers, either as pre-roll video, clickable lower-screen text ads served by Google, or by publishing their own ads and videos. Unless a company is willing to be very vigilant about weeding out offensive commenters, its marketing material often runs in an environment that would be considered unacceptable if it were anywhere else.

One man, Zennie Abraham of, has started a crusade to persuade YouTube to give channel owners the ability to prevent commenters from using the n-word under their videos. In a column in Ad Age, he wrote:

Being a YouTube Partner is great in every way, except one: the allowed, unblocked use of the n-word in the comments section on video pages. It's a problem YouTube must end, first, because I can't imagine any brand wanting to have its name associated with any channel video page that's littered with such words in its comments section, and second, because it's just plain hurtful. I spend a lot of time banning commenters and removing comments containing that racial epithet, but it's like trying to stamp out an army of ants.
He isn't alone. On YouTube's own help pages, channel owners are begging the site automated tools to ban hate speech.

The problem was arguably exacerbated by the Special Olympics' campaign to persuade people to stop using the word "retard" as an insult. Its commercial begins with a bold, undisguised use of the n-word, and argues that retarded is equally unacceptable.

And this week, a remarkably racist election campaign video made in support of Republican candidate Craig Huey for California's 36th Congressional District showed up on YouTube. Titled "Give us your cash, B--ch!," it alleges that Democratic contender Janice Hahn hired gang members with tax money to be "gang intervention specialists." The video uses all the racial demagoguery you can imagine -- and it's a media sensation.

In short, casual use of the n-word or racism in general seems to be "normal" on YouTube in a way that it just isn't elsewhere. And advertisers aren't complaining.

What Abraham is asking for isn't a site-wide ban on the word -- after all, that would eradicate videos that the public ought to see because they illustrate something true but unpleasant about society, such as this one and this one -- just the ability for channel owners to make it harder for trolls to foul the atmosphere. he told BNET that YouTube has noticed his plea:

YouTube did send an email explaining that they were working on tools that will allow me to make the kind of filter I desire. That's good news. I just want to keep the heat up so YouTube makes such work first priority.
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