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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki

Susan Wojcicki and Molly Burke: A conversation about free expression

Susan Wojcicki receives a Free Expression Award from the Freedom Forum Institute.

Susan sat down with Molly Burke to receive a Free Expression Award from the Freedom Forum Institute and discuss YouTube’s commitment to responsibly protecting our community while also providing a space for free expression. Watch their conversation here: 


Molly Burke: I'm so excited to be here tonight to present Susan Wojcicki with the Free Expression Award. As the CEO of YouTube, Susan is facing some of the most critical issues around free expression today. When billions of people are on your platform every day, how do you make sure that everybody has a voice, but also feels safe? And how do you do that across the versions of YouTube that exist in a hundred different countries and 80 different languages? These questions are important to me because YouTube is where I found my voice. You might not be able to tell by looking at me, but I'm blind. I lost the majority of my vision when I was 14. And that year, it felt like my life was falling apart until I found a group of girls, online, who loved beauty and fashion as much as I do. When I no longer had friends in real life to turn to, I found these online creators to turn to, and they felt like my friends. I knew that one day I wanted to be able to build that same sense of community for other people around the world who felt like they didn't fit in. And six years ago, that's what I did. Now, every single day, I get to share my story and advocate for a world that's more accessible for everyone. YouTube gave me that opportunity. And every day YouTube gives people the opportunity to express themselves and the freedom to feel like they have somewhere that they belong. The freedom that YouTube gave me is so important to me, and I'm so grateful. And that's why I feel honored to introduce to you Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube. She's been called one of the most powerful women in technology today, but for creators around the world, we just know her as Susan. 

Susan, I'm so honored to be able to present you tonight with a Free Expression Award for your incredible leadership with YouTube. And I just want to say thank you for all the work that you've done to empower people around the world to share their story. And I'm thrilled to be able to ask you some questions about your perspective on free expression.

Susan Wojcicki: Thank you, Molly. Thank you so much for being here and joining me here tonight.

Molly Burke

Molly Burke

Molly: Now I know that your passion for free speech has been in part impacted due to your family's history. Can you share how your family's experience has shaped your ideas of free speech?

Susan: Sure. Well, so on both sides of my family, they came to the United States because of the need -- or different kinds of persecution. On my father's side, it was due to political persecution. My father came from Poland and for a variety of reasons after World War II, it became important for them to leave. And my father escaped from Poland and wound up coming to the United States. And, you know, my grandfather was never able to leave. He remained in Poland and was behind the Iron Curtain, and I saw how difficult it was to communicate with him, to be able – to worry about what you were saying to him and for him to have concerns about what was said or what was even sent to him. And then, on my mother's side, they came to the United States for religious persecution. 

And so I've just seen the real benefits that freedom of speech has as well as representing all people of all different backgrounds and all different perspectives and that the freedoms we have, we really can't take for granted. That we really have to make sure that we're protecting them in every way possible. And I feel, because of my family history, a deep connection to those freedoms. And I'm very thankful for the freedoms that I have.

Molly: Absolutely, as we all should be. Now when I started on YouTube, all I really wanted to do was just be authentic and share my story. But of course, as I've grown, there's been more pressure to speak for others in my community. And with that becomes a lot of responsibility. And I know at YouTube, you guys are always juggling responsibility at such a high level, always needing to try to balance people's right to free speech with protecting our community from content that can be harmful. So can you talk to us a little about that? 

Susan: Sure. Well, first of all, we want to be able to have as diverse and open a platform as possible and represent as many views as possible on the platform, but we also need to make sure that there are limits and that we can see that sometimes that we've always, since the very beginning of YouTube, have had Community Guidelines, because we've realized that there are certain types of content. Like since the very beginning we wouldn't allow adult content, hate content, dangerous content. All of those types of content could really make it that YouTube was no longer a platform that was viable for all these other voices out there. And so we've always had Community Guidelines, but as YouTube has become bigger and has had more of an impact, we've seen the need to increase what we're doing from a responsibility standpoint. And this has been an area of increasing importance for us as we have certainly gotten bigger and we call this whole work -- the responsibility work. And we actually talk about the four R's of responsibility. It involves literally thousands of people and a large amount of work across the entire company. But if I sum it into these four different Rs, the first one would be Remove, which is that we're always updating our policies and when content is violative of any of the policies, unfortunately, we need to remove it. And so we removed 9 million videos last quarter and almost all of them – over 90% – we removed with machines, which is good because it means if there's content that's violative, we find that really quickly. 

And the second one is Raise -- so being able to raise up authoritative information. So for example, in the pandemic we served hundreds of billions of impressions that came from different health organizations, like whether it was the CDC or the equivalent and countries all over the world and making sure that people get information from the right medical sources in the case of COVID or news from authoritative sources. So we're working to make sure that we can raise up the information that we -- is valuable for our users. 

And then, you know, there's a lot of content that technically meets the spirit of what we're trying to do, but it is -- it's borderline. And so for that content, we'll just Reduce, meaning we're not going to recommend it to our users. It's still on the platform, but it's content that is not necessarily recommended by our platform. 

And the last one is Reward, which is that we have a higher standard for where we serve our advertising dollars. 

And that has many reasons why we want to, you know, we want to do the right thing for our advertisers and they care a lot where their ads show up, but we also want to protect creators like you who have built businesses with really, really valuable content and make sure that you're -- that we don't have a situation where advertisers pulled their spend because there's some content on it that they're not comfortable with. So we want to make sure we're protecting all the valuable creators like you. 

So those are the four Rs of responsibility that we think about as we are -- as YouTube is growing and we're continuing to invest. And it's been a huge priority for me at YouTube to make sure that we are balancing the openness of YouTube, but also the responsibility.

Molly: That's fantastic. I think all of those are very valuable steps that YouTube has taken. And I'm curious to hear how you feel free speech plays out on YouTube with creativity.

Susan: Well, first of all, I think that YouTube has really enabled a lot more creativity, and I think it's amazing we have creators like you on the platform and that we can hear from you -- from different perspectives that we probably wouldn't have heard with traditional media. And I also just look over my lifetime. So when I was a kid, I remember there were just, I don't know – not that many channels! Probably less than a hundred at the most channels. And maybe when I was a teenager, there were a couple hundred. And now with YouTube, we have millions and millions of channels, and that has just unleashed a huge number of different views and perspectives. And we can hear from people that we never would have heard from beforehand.

Molly: Absolutely. Thank you, Susan, for chatting with me and congrats on your very well-deserved award.

Susan: Thank you so much to the Freedom Forum for having me here today. And for this award, I recognize the significance of freedom of speech, and I'm so honored to be here today to receive this award.