July 23, 2007

Hate Speech, Free Speech, Whose Speech?

The First Amendment prevents the government from curtailing our free speech rights. But YouTube isn't the government; it has wider discretion to prohibit or allow the flow of information that flows thru it's servers. Different broadcasters and distributors of information set different standards, according to their target market's expectations. CNN and Fox generally don't show scenes of explicit violence and shattered corpses. Al-Jazeera isn't alone among satellite stations that don't feel the need to respect delicate sensibilities. The Internet is a big place, and there is no shortage of places that will host whatever the customer pays for.

But YouTube presents itself as as a certain kind of company, one that let's viewers 'flag as inappropriate' videos that contain 'hate speech.' This sounds more like the work of a politically correct University administrator than a company that's going to go to the mat for every last internet user's free speech rights. And, YouTube uses new technology; it's at least possible to allow a broader range of views and images on YouTube than are allowed on broadcast or even cable television, in the name of free speech, without exposing 9 year olds to it. The Internet isn't a broadcast medium in the same sense radio is.

But YouTube can't seem to make up it's mind whether they're all about the free speech, or all about protecting people from hate speech. If there's a way to reconcile high-minded policies against hate speech in an effort to create 'non-threatening' environments, protecting everyone's feelings along the way, while offering free webspace for the spread of ideas that pursue little else but creating threatening environments, and are bent on hurting people feelings, faith, and body parts, I'm not aware of it.

By comparison, it's almost easy to understand why YouTube might have a history of deleting videos of citizens whose politics they appear to disagree with. At least in those cases we can assume it all comes down to the question of whose speech is being subjected to the narrowest, strictest, letter-of-the-law reading of YouTube content policies. Not that it's fair, but it's at least understandable, if we assume YouTube operates in a politically partisan fashion. But it becomes unfathomable that YouTube would cater so much to the politically correct at the same time it's protecting the right of people to expound a muderous ideology that would like to take away everyone's right to free speech (and that whole life, liberty, pursuit of happiness would come in for some serious revision, too).

And I'm not talking about Islam here, or targeting Muslims just for being Muslims. I'm perfectly willing to concede that Islam is a Religion of Peace. Just as long as we all agree the death-cult, snuff-flick, hate-drenched videos YouTube hosts in such abundance aren't considered a part of True Islam, and deserve no protection on the grounds of religious freedom, any more than we'd accept a murderer's excuse that the devil made him do it on religious freedom grounds. I've seen many videos posted by Muslims pursuing religious practices no more disturbing than any other religious tradition I've known. I'm not talking about those videos.

Allahu Akbar simply means God is Greatest. I'm fine with that. But when you post a video with traditional religous background music, and repeat that phrase as you loop of the precise moment an IED goes off under a Humvee or other vehicle, a leading cause of death for Coalition soldiers, that's celebrating it. That is not simply committing an act of journalism. That, in my book, is hate speech. Odd thing, YouTube once at least pretended to agree.

The week Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion dollars, "In an e-mail message, Ms. Supan [senior director of marketing for YouTube] said that among the videos removed were those that 'display graphic depictions of violence in addition to any war footage (U.S. or other) displayed with intent to shock or disgust, or graphic war footage with implied death (of U.S. troops or otherwise).'" - NY Times, Oct. 6, 2006

Try telling that to them now. Oh wait, that's just what we're doing here.

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