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Friday

14

September 2012

Administration Pressures YouTube in Effort to Censor Anti-Islam Video

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society, Foreign Affairs & Policy, Government Meddling

Continuing to place blame in the wrong places for the latest violent outburst to sweep across the Middle East, the Obama administration has apparently asked YouTube to take down the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims,” a shoddy, amateur looking film taking aim at Islam (Hat-tip: Reason):

The trailer has been blamed for inciting violence in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Obama administration officials said Thursday that they have asked YouTube to review the video and determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, according to people close to the situation but not authorized to comment.

Some media observers predict that the incident will prompt calls for Google Inc.’s YouTube to play a more active role in curating the billions of hours of videos found on its site. One prominent 1st Amendment lawyer even suggested that YouTube should seek a judge’s ruling about whether to remove potentially incendiary content.

Other digital media experts, however, cited the technical limitations of scouring the torrent of videos that are uploaded to the site every minute and making value judgments about those likely to incite anger, hate or murder.

YouTube is a private company, so of course has the right to accept or reject videos as they see fit. Though in turn they can be criticized for it if people perceive the process to be arbitrary or biased, which could provide an opening for a potential competitor. But for the government to make such a request is downright sinister and clearly violates the principle of free speech.

The Obama administration request may not have had an explicit or even intended threat of force behind it, but that’s largely irrelevant. The government is too big and too powerful for any request ever to just be a request. When a mafia boss asks you to do something, he doesn’t need to make a threat. Everyone will perceive it to be there just the same, even in the unlikely event that he didn’t intend any punishment for refusal. With the government antitrust goons sharpening their knives and practically drooling over the prospect of subjecting YouTube-owner Google to the same witch hunt they launched at Microsoft in the 90’s, it would be hard for YouTube¬† not to see the potential repercussions for refusing this “request.” That they have so far not bowed to the pressure is a point in their favor.

The quoted article goes on to cite “technological limitations” to policing user submitted content in a vain attempt to protect delicate sensibilities from any potential umbrage. But what about the philosophical limitations? Why is it Google’s responsibility to keep unwanted content from people’s eyes? If not ever being offended is so important to people, then they can go live in a cabin in the woods and hide from the outside world – as that’s the only way to accomplish it.

That the LA Times couldn’t find any potential objection, other than practical considerations, either to the administration’s behavior or the imagined “calls for Google Inc.’s YouTube to play a more active role in curating the billions of hours of videos found on its site” says as much about their quality of journalism as the whole affair says about this administration’s respect for fundamental First Amendment rights.