Censorship For Some but Not Others

“Senator Lieberman stated his belief, in a letter sent today, that all videos mentioning or featuring these groups should be removed from YouTube — even legal nonviolent or non-hate speech videos,” the statement said. “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view.”

[From YouTube won’t take down all Islamist video – UPI.com]

I guess Lieberman should have had the Chinese government send the letter to Google, those videos would be gone gone gone by now. This is the problem that Google created for themselves when they decided that censorship with a business objective wasn’t such a bad thing.

I’m pretty much black-and-white on this specific issue, if your group is an affirmed terrorist group then you have opted-out of civil society and don’t get to enjoy privileges like free speech. They are privileges in this context by the way, the Bill of Rights affirms rights you are endowed with and government must demonstrate a compelling interest before restraining you, but when it comes to private companies and properties they own, the only rights you have are declared in the terms of service and in a patchwork of laws created to address individual rights, e.g. data privacy, in a commercial setting.

The last time I checked, Congress has passed no law that permits as-Sahab or al-Furquan to enjoy the same protections as I do when posting to Youtube. Google is wrong on this issue, just as they were with China and ironically for the same reason even though it would appear the roles are reversed. They allow the Chinese government to exercise censorship for the purposes of control and they are allowing terrorist groups to operate on Youtube in a manner that promotes their own fascist agenda.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Facebook and Myspace deciding for us that some offensive language must be bleeped out. I actually find this just as troubling and I’m not hesitant about observing that I have put myself in a moral quandary here by endorsing policing of content in one instance while not in another.

If you ever get the itch to use the word “yuwie” or perhaps make reference to “wadja.com” – don’t bother. “Some of the content you included in this message is not allowed by Facebook,” is the message you’ll get in response. Both of the above are small social networks, but you can’t even send a message about how something disgusting (like yuwie.com’s site design) made you say “yuwie, that smells bad!” On principle, the whole thing stinks.

In thinking it through I find myself drawing a line between private messaging systems and broadcast networks. While it is morally repugnant for Google to allow terrorist organizations to use Youtube to broadcast their propaganda, it would be equally repugnant for Google to filter out these same groups from Gmail messages. Google has a responsibility to monitor Youtube, while they have no business snooping in anyone’s email without a court order to do so.

Facebook seems to be taking an interesting stance, aggressively filtering private email messages while not seeming to care about what is posted on public message boards. While Marshall and I may disagree on the finer points in this debate, I do agree with him that there needs to be a much greater degree of transparency about how social networks are operating and what rules they are enforcing.