YouTube Grows a Spine

I need to cut down on the length of my posts; I challenge myself to keep this under 1200 words.

With Yvette Cooper at the helm, Britain’s Home Affairs Committee recently told YouTube that they ought to remove this video by David Duke, former Ku Klux Klan leader, entitled “Jews admit organizing White Genocide”, and YouTube told them, in effect, to get stuffed. (Here, though for those able to access it I thought there was much better reporting here).

The video is your standard anti-semitic, conspiratorial nonsense. We have little reason to trouble ourselves with it beyond generally accepting that David Duke clearly ran out of edge long ago and fell off the cliff. Just to give an impression:

The Zionists have already ethnically cleansed the Palestinians; why not do the same thing to Europeans and Americans as well? No group on earth fights harder for its interests than do the Jews. By dividing a society they can weaken it and control it.

It’s just fourteen minutes of that, really. Did you expect much else from an ex-leader of the KKK? Before someone accuses me of being a closeted neo-Nazi, I hope I’ve made it clear that I’m not impressed. This man is a nut, and I just see no reason to get emotionally worked up about him at all. What we are interested in is the call to take it down, and YouTube’s unexpected but if I do say so very welcome response.

In general, social media has been badly censored over the last few years. On Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is very well known (some conspiritards have covered this, but there’s a good deal of hard evidence, and plenty of more rational people raising concerns as well) for sinisterly lashing out at his political enemies using the platform, ranging from completely random suspensions to the ominous loss of verification ticks. Dorsey seems to like out-of-proportion punishments, cutting off Milo Yio-whateveritis for supposedly inciting a wave of hate attacks against Leslie Jones, when in actuality his five archived interactions with her are no more than moderate teasing, and the attack was going on before he got involved. More recently, Dorsey has gone to work hiding replies and softly shutting people up; you can collect evidence for this yourself, so often does it happen:

YouTube has tended to be less draconian. Its DMCA system, whereby users can individually file copyright strikes, leaves it open to abuse by the malicious, and the three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy has caused problems in the past; but I have seen no evidence to date of management trying to throttle certain targets. Advertisers have put them in a tight spot (watch both to get it from all angles) recently, but I don’t really blame them for it. I just wish they were more open about the things they were doing and communicated with their creators better.

In this case, the response by Peter Barron, vice-president for communications at Google, was pretty clear. He said that he was not going to take down the video, that it was clearly anti-semitic and deeply offensive, but did not breach the Terms of Service, though he admitted it was “right on the borderline”:

Our teams are making highly principled decisions and debating with a lot of intensity these issues. We’re not looking at these question lightly . . . It doesn’t meet the test for removing under our guidelines. We are in favour of free speech and access to information.

Indeed. Generally, apparently, the only videos taken down tend to be the ones advocating violence — though demonetisation these days is very widespread. I think this is a pleasing deviation from the norm. Free expression — “speech” is too narrow a definition and gives several avenues for weaselling out — is a pretty uncomplicated discussion; you would only go around trying to convince people it had nuance if you wanted to justify something — namely, removing things you don’t like from existence because you don’t like them. If there are spots where deep conversation is necessary, then they are:

A. slander, defamation, libel and so on, whereby fictions told by a speaker with a loud voice result in material damage to a person

B. incitements to violence (I am shakier myself on this point than on the others)

C. following people so that they cannot get away from your speech — harassment

Anything else goes, as far as I am concerned. “If someone tells me I’ve hurt their feelings I say, ‘Well, I’m still waiting to hear what your point is’. I’m very depressed how in this country you can be told, ‘That’s offensive!’, as if those two words constitute an argument, or a comment. Not to me they don’t. And I’m not running for anything, so I don’t have to pretend to like people”. Those words I remember by the Hitch are important ones. This is why I so despise the concept of “hate speech”. I honestly believe it actually sounds Orwellian, like it was ripped from the Newspeak dictionary itself. Yes, David Duke’s video was hateful. But here’s the thing: in free societies we are allowed to be hateful. If you believe me saying that somehow puts me in league with him and his hilarious ilk, then I’m sorry but, to reclaim a clichéd phrase, you’re part of the problem. Duke saying Jews want to control the world is an opinion; the first thing totalitarians do is remove citizens’ ability to have opinions. Everybody who shares my stance on free expression has already accepted that people like him will be able to prosper. Some tolerate it; some outright welcome the extra viewpoints and arguments. Honestly it hardly matters. Duke’s video has not killed anyone, and it is easy to not watch if you do not want to watch it. If you think certain ideas are too “dangerous”, that we cannot allow the demos to hear certain things, then your view of humanity is far too pessimistic for you to ever call yourself a liberal. Ask yourself, “Who would I allow to set up a jury and judge in the antechamber of my mind and tell me what I can and cannot hear? To whom would I give that power?” What makes you a better judge, person who disagrees with me, than, say, me?

It is a fact of liberty that, if you want to keep it, ninety per cent of the time you will be defending the people who put it to the worst use. That is only the nature of freedom: it will be used in unexpected and disliked ways, different from what the high-minded idealists intended. I think YouTube need to be congratulated, in this instance, at least, for finally standing up, and showing a little backbone.

1125 words — yes.

 

 

 

 

 

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