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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wants rules. "From a policy standpoint, we need to be consistent," Wojcicki told Axios' Ina Fried on Monday. "If we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we would need to take down."

The state of play: There are two kinds of enforcement mechanisms. Silicon Valley engineers naturally gravitate towards rules-based systems: If this, then that. Once you set the rules, the job of enforcing them becomes routine. The alternative is a principles-based system. In the legal system, principles can be found in areas like sentencing guidelines or even the "reasonable doubt" test.

The big picture: YouTube's rules-based system is not working. Malign creators like Steven Crowder are effectively gaming the system and causing significant harm. A principles-based system — one where a single decision doesn't cause a binding precedent for the future — would be much more effective at cracking down on bad actors, and would also allow benign actors to escape unnecessary censure.

What they’re saying: Vox Media's Peter Kafka and Nilay Patel both put it to Wojcicki that YouTube was too big and too heterogeneous to be able to operate a one-size-fits-all set of bright-line rules about which content stays up and which stays down. But Wojcicki rejected that idea outright. "We need to have consistent policies," she said.

  • Wojcicki told Fried that she was "truly sorry" for the hurt that YouTube had caused the LGBTQ community, but didn't specify any particular action that she was sorry for. Indeed, she insisted that she had ultimately done the right thing, and that, given her druthers, she would do it all over again.

Background: The NYT's Sarah Jeong recently explained to her colleague Charlie Warzel that, in a legal system, there are good reasons to have hard-and-fast rules.

  • "Standards are harder to enforce," she wrote, "so you’re more likely to get delays in the courts and inconsistency in decisions."
  • But YouTube already suffers from delays and inconsistencies in its enforcement. Meanwhile, in a principles-based system, YouTube would find it much easier to take down hateful videos.

By the numbers: A rules-based system takes work. Wojcicki said that YouTube's recent incremental policy change on hate speech "took months and months of work, and hundreds of people we had working on that."

  • But a principles-based system would require even more work. Under such a system, "there would be literally millions of other people saying what about this video, what about this video, what about this video," she said.

The bottom line: A YouTube that based its decisions on high-level principles rather than bright-line rules would create more work for itself, but also provide more accountability for the rest of us. As Warzel told Jeong, "When it comes to principles, YouTube is either lacking or too afraid to express them publicly."

Go deeper

2020 was the economy's worst year since 1946

Source: FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy grew at a 4% annualized pace in the last quarter of 2020, meaning the economy shrank by 3.5% for the full year, the government said on Thursday.

Why it matters: One of the last major economic report cards of the Trump era shows a sharp slowdown in growth compared to the previous quarter, as the pandemic got worse and government aid petered out. It was the worst year for the economy since 1946 and the first time GDP shrank since 2009, when it fell 2.5% during the Great Recession.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

How GameStop exposed the market

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Retail traders have found a cheat code for the stock market, and barring some major action from regulatory authorities or a massive turn in their favored companies, they're going to keep using it to score "tendies" and turn Wall Street on its head.

What's happening: The share prices of companies like GameStop are rocketing higher, based largely on the social media organizing of a 3-million strong group of Redditors who are eagerly piling into companies that big hedge funds are short selling, or betting will fall in price.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

Who benefits from Biden's move to reopen ACA enrollment

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nearly 15 million Americans who are currently uninsured are eligible for coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than half of them would qualify for subsidies, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation brief.

Why it matters: President Biden is expected to announce today that he'll be reopening the marketplaces for a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 to May 15, but getting a significant number of people to sign up for coverage will likely require targeted outreach.