It’s YouTube And MeTube, But Not ThemTube

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The problem with open societies, free speech, and Web 2.0 is that any ol’ jerk can believe and say anything they want. That you’d rather they didn’t is kind of your problem. But it’s a bigger problem for larger entities like YouTube and Google who provide the platform, or, since Microsoft’s not using it, the soapbox for the jerks to stand upon.

When I was in college, there was a specific area of campus reserved for the exercise of free speech, a strip in between the bookstore and the student center where anybody could speak their piece. Students didn’t use the area as much as a local hellfire-and-brimstone preacher did to warn against the evils of learning and having fun – especially at the same time.

Though most everyone was annoyed by him, and you could hear him far beyond the designated free speech area, none would dare to trample his right to speak, and a few would engage in debate with him, or would stand across the sidewalk preaching the brilliance of David Hume instead, at competing decibels.

That’s the awkward, wonderful beauty of free speech.

But it’s not the same from country to country, or essentially from state to state, and it’s even trickier on the Web, where everything is international, and just about everything worth visiting is hosted by a larger, private entity.

They are not government entities, so they do not have to, if headquartered in the US, guarantee those inalienable rights Americans cherish, but will honor them where possible, for violating them will turn their constituents, their netizens, against them. In terms of speech, the most cherished of these inalienable rights, it’s a fine line between terms of service enforcement and censorship.

It’s an even finer line between philosophical absolutism and "just once in the name of popular condemnation." If that sounds obtuse it’s because I unsuccessfully tried to boil down something complex into a few words…where’s Hemingway when I need him? Censorship is wrong, most will agree, until a certain percentage of the population agrees what was said was heinous enough to warrant it. Free speech until the collective rejects it.

Germany doesn’t seem to care to walk these fuzzy philosophical lines. Soon after the country reportedly denied Tom Cruise a license to film because of his Scientologist evangelism, there has been a call for criminal investigation against Google and YouTube for facilitating neo-Nazi propaganda.

Not just neo-footage, but also vintage footage was uploaded by users, with anti-Semitic videos from 1940’s appearing there as well.

Everything that one might predict happened: in the comments section, most were appalled by the videos, some were neutral, based on educational and documentation reasons, and a few applauded; Google pulled the offending videos at Germany’s request; and nobody except neo-Nazis will complain because, well, nobody likes Nazis.

Al-Qaeda, too, has reportedly been taking advantage of the user-generated video craze by uploading recruiting videos to YouTube. According to this report, one lasted nearly 24 hours before YouTube took it down.

Again, nobody but terrorists are going to speak up for them.

These are extreme examples, but they are precursors to challenges ahead. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and other companies have already had their run-ins with China and censorship.

Even in America, where freedom of speech is the first among rights, there will be struggles to define its limits, where it is acceptable to speak, and how loudly. But remember this: If speech on the Internet is determined by terms of service agreements set forth by private companies not only beholden to advertisers, partners and shareholders, but also to international pressures, then there will be no real freedom of speech on the Internet.

It begins with AT&T censoring Pearl Jam, Yahoo handing over information to Chinese authorities, Google bending to every country that demands it bend. Net Neutrality isn’t just about gate-keeping, it’s about fundamental rights to speak our minds whether or not others think we should, and about other people not being able to stop us from speaking our minds. But most of all, it’s about the people keeping control of their free-speech area, and keeping it open for debate.    

It’s YouTube And MeTube, But Not ThemTube
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  • http://www.Zeop.com Steve

    Do an end-around this type of video censorship using technologies like the Zeop Media Engine (http://www.zeop.com)

  • Matt

    This article is the best I have read in quite some time. It really made me consider more the consequences of censorship. In the past, I had overlooked many articles pertaining to international topics. The internet is truly global though and will require global solutions to problems such as censorship.

  • Dobbs

    Blah, blah, blah. Dude, do you really have anything to say, or was this just to meet a deadline? Snoozeville, man.

    It’s an interesting subjet that you managed to turn into Sominex. Zzzzz…..

  • http://truthspew.wordpress.com Tony Pelliccio

    This is why I say corporations should have NO rights under law.

    I closed my google blogs and youtube videos when YouTube/Google moved against Nick Gisburne for putting up a slide-show that quoted Quaranic verse against infidels.

    The Muslims of course said he was taking it out of context, something all religions are guilty of.

    So YouTube did what they are wont to do, they deleted all Nick’s videos and deleted his account.

    So now as you see, I’m on WordPress for my blog, and video is on Blip.

  • cux

    hemingway – one m

  • Guest


  • Guest


  • Conor Ellis

    The Black out is on the 19th of youtube! DONT GO ON UTUBE FROM
    19th/21st DECEMBER

  • http://songwritingtips.org/ How to Write a Song

    The article is informative and organized. Thanks to Jason for the nice article

  • Guest

    I would like to say thank you to author of these articles on this site. I read all of these articles and i need to read some new articles. I’ve watched a video on youtube about this topic for now and i loved it. Also it is one of the rarely topic on this site.

    See you on a new topic…

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