August 04, 2007

Banned by YouTube

I’ve been thinking about Operation YouTube Smackdown from a Free Speech perspective ever since we began. I’m generally more of a Free Speech purist than the sort calling for nanny-labels on every little thing. Give parents a chance to at least know what’s in the stuff they’re buying for their kids, whether it’s breakfast cereal or music albums. Then let grown people be grownups. So what gives with the YouTube Smackdown? Sure, YouTube's own policies claim they don’t tolerate hate speech or graphic violence. Of course, the hundreds of videos we’ve flagged that they haven’t taken down suggest they’re quite willing to tolerate that very thing. But, still, who died and made us the YouTube hall monitors?

Nobody. You may have heard it said that hypocrisy is the last remaining sin in our postmodern, morally-relative world. Maybe nobody can hold anybody else to a common set of standards anymore. But if someone isn’t living up to their own standards, you can still call them a hypocrite, right? Well, Google, the ‘Don’t Be Evil’ company, owns YouTube. If you read the YouTube editors blog it’s clear the standards they hold up for their company and their users resemble University Hate Speech codes far more than they resemble some wild-west, libertarian free-speech utopia. So there’s that.

But that hardly satisfies if we’re looking for a serious evaluation. It’s a valid argument, but asking people to practice what they preach isn’t the same thing as seriously considering the merits of what it is, exactly, that they’re preaching. I believe in free speech, probably more than the folks at YouTube. Especially if you consider the history of the kinds of videos they have removed. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the story by Rachel Lucas of the video where a squirrel dodges a rock (no squirrels were harmed in the making of that video). It was removed on grounds of animal abuse. You’d think a video of a humvee not dodging an IED would be more removable on grounds of cruelty to the soldiers riding inside.

Many videos like those of John McCain singing ‘Bomb, bomb Iran’ were removed, then put back up. And for all I know, removed and put back up again. A pillar of consistency YouTube ain’t. They’ve shown a willingness to delete videos by anti-jihadists like Crusader18. Then there’s Nick Gisburne, the athiest who got his video banned for simply quoting some of the harsher lines from the Koran. The link I’ll provide about that comes from the website of the famous athiest and biologist Richard Dawkins. Why? Because it gives me an opening to repeat a quote Dawkins used in a letter to Prince Charles about open-mindedness in science. “Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” I can’t resist pointing out how YouTube seems at least open-minded enough to host videos of people’s brains literally spilling out.

Perhaps most famously, right around the time Google bought YouTube last year, someone at YouTube decided to take down Michelle Malkin’s “First they Came” video Vent. The only explanation they seemed willing to give, in an attempt to defend against the charge the video was removed for polical reasons, was that it contained graphic violence. Yes, it showed a still photo of the body of Theo Van Gogh after his assassination. The one where the killer pinned a note in the guy’s chest saying Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be next. The photo showed a small amount of blood on the pavement, with Theo’s body covered by a sheet. I defy you to visit the Strong Stomach section of our Daily Dozen and tell me what you see there is less objectionable than a guy under a sheet.

Maybe the folks over at Daily Kos got together and flagged Michelle’s video en masse and that’s why Malkin’s video was taken down, who knows. YouTube displays how many times a video has been viewed, commented on, or favorited. But they don’t like to admit how often folks object to the videos they host. Still, they do seem to respond to pressure. More recently, some guy uploaded a video of himself saying how glad he was Daniel Pearl had gotten his head cut off. This got written up by, among others, Michelle Malkin and Little Green Footballs (the guys who first published the animation comparing Dan Rather’s ‘discovery’ of Bush’s 70s era military records and what anyone could produce in 2 minutes with Microsoft Word). Before the day of the resulting blogswarm of people flagging that video was over, YouTube had removed the video and deleted the guy’s account. All for nothing worse than saying he was glad another guy got killed. How is that different from showing footage of IEDs exploding under vehicles while singing and shouting Allahu Akbar? (I’ll leave for another day the question of where we might find all the outrage over these kinds of videos you’d expect from moderate Muslims, trying to defend their peaceful religion being against being hijacked.)

And of course, YouTube is willing to cater to the demands of different countries like Thailand and Turkey when it comes to removing videos unfriendly to the ruling government. They don’t mind a little censorship if it’ll help them sell more ad space. And I won’t even bother linking to anything about the issues over copyright, where entertainment companies have learned to tell YouTube to jump in a way that gets YouTube to ask, “Is this high enough?" Apparently, the line the folks at YouTube are paying the most attention to is their bottom line. When it comes to their Community Guidelines, all bets are off. Because when it comes to removing anything else, their first response is always, “meh, do it yourself.” Or rather, they cover their legal keisters against any responsibility for the videos their users upload. They say they’ll remove anything that doesn’t meet their standards. At least, whenever users complain by flagging objectionable videos, and not until (or maybe not, even then).

But what happens when they review a flagged video, and they decide to keep it up? Do they assume responsibility then? For what? Making a kid cry because he saw it? Or because some guy watched it and was inspired to volunteer to blow himself up in a pizza parlor? If anyone’s out there testing the legal theories, I’m not aware of it. But I’d like to be. Also, this emphasis on creative legal theories, like the hypocrisy standard, seems to miss the point somehow. Or rather, it sounds like the kind of thing you’d hear when someone’s trying to score a point instead of make one. And I want to make a point here, something more fundmental. One of my mottoes is, “It’s more important to find out what’s right than who’s right.” Games of who can point out the most hypocrisies lead nowhere, or favor those who hold out the fewest real standards to begin with. And ya gotta figure YouTube would win on that score, given their track record.

So how do we reconcile the value of free speech with my conviction that YouTube is creating externalities that are harmful to others? With a little free speech of our own. YouTube is fobbing off the workload, and legal responsibility, onto their site’s users. This is what allows them to host videos that incite and recruit on behalf of radical Islamist terrorists (even after they’re flagged). Is that all they need to do so they "don’t be evil"? I’m not qualified to say they’re breaking any laws here. At least, not clearly enough to convince a prosecuter to go up against YouTube and/or Google over them. But if folks on the political left want to hold gun manufacturers liable for gun crimes, why aren’t they demanding YouTube be held reponsible for terrorism aided and abetted by the videos they host? Don’t answer, it’s a tortured legal argument to begin with. Still, they got Al Capone for back taxes. But they got Al Capone.

I think it’s gotta come down to a simpler kind of argument. Is hosting these videos right or wrong, in and of itself? You’ll have to judge that for yourself. And once you do, you can decide if you want to join the Smackdown or not. You’re a grownup. But I say YouTube has spent so much time making sure they’re not liable for anything illegal, it seems they’ve forgotten about trying to avoid doing wrong. Not in the PC, touchy-feely sense where they ask people to be nice leaving comments on other people’s videos. I’m talking about the right and wrong of the kinds of acts and values these jihad videos endorse. “Don’t be evil”? Ha! I’m starting to think the average YouTube staff reviewers wouldn’t recognize true evil if it was 6 inches in front of their faces.

Which, if you think about it, is right where we’re trying to put the jihadi videos when we flag them.


Kat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kat said...

It has nothing to do with free speech. I just saw someone reply to a comment on a video indicating that it was protected under the 1st Amendment. That is false.

YouTube is an American company hosted on services in the United States. No nation, not even ours under the auspice of "free speech" can, should, would or ought to be compelled to accept, hear, read or watch materials that directly call for the destruction of a nation or death to its citizens whether they are citizens within its sovereign borders or those under arms in a foreign nation.

Not even our fore fathers believed that we should be compelled towards such self destructive idealism. There is the free market of ideas and then there is direct threats and evidence of planned or accomplished attacks against the people and the nation.

Read the preamble of the constitution. While the Declaration said men should be able to overthrow their government and protest against it, they did not say that same government should suffer such a fate from any outside nation or individuals. The constitution further stated that the purpose of creating our government included providing "for the common defense".

That defense was directly related to the possibility and probability of attack by outside forces.

do not be so mired down in the first amendment that you cannot tell the difference between free political speech and threats of violence or planning violence or enacting violence against the nation and its people. Not even the Supreme Court or any court of this land would uphold such concepts.

There is a thresh hold that divides the criminal from free speech. Beyond expressing political ideas, people who make threats to kill or injure another person can have protective orders made against them and, depending on the scope of that threat, may be arrested. People who make threats to kill or injure another person and then plans such attacks are convicted of "conspiracy". There is no free speech in that. People who make threats, plan and carry out such attacks are guilty of conspiracy as well as the actual crime itself. In war with a declared enemy, that thresh hold becomes even lower.

This is not about free speech. The question is, are we compelled to provide a platform to those who meet any of those thresh holds of criminal or enemy activity? We are not.

The fact that YouTube does not comprehend the difference between these concepts is a matter of willful ignorance, not the first amendment.

Let me make an example that I once used: would we, should we have shown Nazi war propaganda during WWII? while we may have given leeway to such organizations as the American Socialist Party to have speeches and rallies, they were monitored, raided and even arrested when their activities went beyond advocating a political idea to actually advocating and conspiring to commit attacks against the United States, its citizens and interests.

That is how the divide works.

It is the same divide that allows Islamist political parties and groups to exist, but labels them criminal or even terrorist when they cross the divide into actively providing any material services for terrorist organizations.

In fact, that is exactly what YouTube does when it hosts such videos. It is providing material assistance to terrorists and enemies of the United States and its citizens.

Not free speech. It is against the law and very concept of defense of this nation and our people.

Anonymous said...

Basil says:

The United States, indeed all of Western Civilization, is at war with a new form of totalitarianism. Islam isn't just a religion; it a sytem for total control of a populace based on rigid strictures covering everything from personal hygiene to statecraft. Islam translates as "submission" which is the only thing a free man needs to know about it. Because its adherents have failed to come to terms with modernity, they react with primitive nihilism against those who enjoy the fruits of liberty. There is no coming to terms with this enemy. A system of belief this rigid can suffer only one fate; it must be shattered. The first duty of the West is to ensure its own self-preservation.

Moral relativism and politically correct thinking are the result of one of two causes: either muddled thinking or calculated cynicism. The affect is to create a new kind of totalitarianism within our midst. Speech codes, wealth redistribution, and the creation of a Balkanized, yet dependent, population are the means to an end. Is it any wonder that the totalitarians among us make common cause with our enemies when they perceive a chance to accrue more political power?

The First Amendment was never intended to protect those engaged in sedition and treason. YouTube is guilty of aiding and abetting the enemy in time of war. Those who love liberty need to understand this. We are engaged in a war on the homefront against domestic totalitarians. Our military can take care of our enemies abroad. Few understand the true nature of America's domestic enemies because they advance their agenda by small, incremental steps.

Islam will never topple the United States. If we succumb, as Abraham Lincoln well understood, it can only occur by suicide. At YouTube Smackdown we're engaged in a much larger fight than most understand.

Rickbert said...

Kat, thank you for your comment. We agree that this is not primarily a First Amendment issue. But I felt the need to adress it in those terms (if only in an attempt to demonstrate it's inadequacy) because so many defend YouTube on just those grounds. Never mind that all we're asking YouTube to do is enforce it's own policy, or admit it's lax enforcement of policy results in a policy of freely hosting such videos.

And any application of policy, like the Constitution itself, should not be a suicide pact:

"strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means." - Thomas Jefferson

And I agree with Basil, who points out another divide at work here. The one between those who say we are at war, and those who say we are not. I cordially invite any who say we are not at war to watch the videos we flag.

Neil said...

Remember that live backwards is ‘evil’ and googles motto of ‘Do no evil’ is an anagram of ‘o no devil’ so its about time you changed to use targ8.com, the all in one search engine and social network search site, who's motto is "Don't Google it, Targ8 it."

Anonymous said...

I just had a video removed by youtube. Interestingly enough the video had a 3-4 star rating and 80 percent of the comments were positive. Yet, I guess a flagging vocal minority got the video removed. What was it you ask?

It was a parody of a girl singing and dancing to a song. I used a hand puppet. That is all. Except, the fact that the girl parodied has a disability. Of all the teasing done on youtube, apparently you are not allowed to parody somebody because they have a disability. I'm guessing the world and youtube believes that they should get "Special treatment" that other non-disabled people do not get. The video is a puppet singing a song. Nothing vulgar..nothing explicit. Now it's gone. Luckily somebody else reposted it.

Tell me..is THIS offensive.


Anonymous said...

Let me reword one part I said. Not parodying somebody BECAUSE they have a disability. Parodying somebody WITH a disability.

Svinrod said...

Offensive? Not necessarily.
Creepy? Definitely.

But more to the point. We are focuesd on countering Jihadist propoganda in a time of war. Dont tell me it is not a war. Obama and Hillary say they will end "The War".

The first amendment has limitations, and You Tube has its own published standards. We ask only that they enforce them.