Clueless State AGs Attack Google Over YouTube Videos Instead Of Pursuing The Criminals Who Made Them
from the seriously,-guys? dept
We’ve been writing a fair bit lately on the incredible anti-innovation, anti-free speech views of various states’ attorneys general, who seem to be doing anything they can to get themselves shoved into the headlines by making completely bogus threats against internet companies for things their users do. The latest takes this level of pure cluelessness to new heights. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt win our award for “extremely clueless politicians of the week” for their latest misguided, mis-targeted, harmful and backwards attack on YouTube and Google. Basically because some people somewhere have used YouTube to post videos and these AGs think this will get them into the headlines, they’re blaming Google.
After viewing a series of videos promoting dangerous activities such as the sale of illegal drugs, fraudulent passports and sex trafficking on YouTube, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt asked YouTube’s parent company, Google, to provide more information on how much the company has profited from videos.
Right. I’m wondering when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that Ford explain why bank robbers use their cars as escape vehicles, or when Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are going to demand that AT&T explain why extortionists have used their phone services.
Let’s go through this nonsense step by step, because it’s really beyond the pale. First off, it takes a special kind of cluelessness for two attorneys general, who are supposed to help their states enforce the law, to be shown videos that disclose crimes being committed and rather than go after those committing the crimes, instead decide to blame the tool that revealed the crimes to them. This is beyond blaming the messenger. This is blaming the manufacturer of a video camera because it was used to tape a crime which the AGs failed to stop. It’s beyond a head in the sand approach. It’s putting your head in the sand and then blaming the sky for shining light on your ass.
Second, there’s an important bit of federal law called Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides pretty clear safe harbors for service providers such that that they are not liable for actions committed by their users. In other words, there’s no legal issue here for the AGs to grandstand about, even as they’re hoping to get a personal exception to Section 230 that just applies to state AGs. Threatening companies over things for which they are not legally liable is extreme bullying by politicians who have way too much power.
Third, if the videos themselves are illegal, then there is a clear process by which those who found the videos can seek to get them taken off the site. If the videos are not illegal, as seems likely to be the case, then they’re protected by the First Amendment, and these attacks from government officials seeking to stifle free speech really seem to raise serious questions about the competence of these Attorneys General to enforce the law in their own states, when they appear to be somewhat unfamiliar with both Constitutional basics and the federal laws that bind them.
Fourth, as it stands more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. If there’s some magic way that these politicians think that each and every one of those videos can be pre-vetted to make sure nothing that they don’t like gets uploaded, they don’t understand basic math. The alternative, of course, is not to have the ability to have any user-generated content exist online at all. In other words, the “solution” is to kill what makes the internet and things like YouTube useful. Way to go, Jon Bruning and Scott Pruitt. I’m sure your constituents will be thrilled to know that your big accomplishment was to make sure that you killed YouTube and all of their ability to make and share their own content.
In other words, this is an extremely misguided move by two state politicians who are making themselves look incredibly foolish, because someone spread some moral panic FUD about “drugs and sex on YouTube!” And who’s responsible for that? Ah, yes, an astroturfing group out of Washington, DC designed to create moral panics around Google:
Digital Citizens Alliance Executive Director Tom Galvin, who presented a detailed report to the National Association of Attorneys General on YouTube last month, made the following remarks after the letter was released:
“Google has allowed thousands of videos to exist on YouTube that offer drugs, prostitution, forged passports, counterfeits and content theft. Worse, they have profited from them by running ads in conjunction with these videos. Hopefully, the attorneys general will be able to get answers others have failed to get. Namely why such an important, otherwise great company is putting profit over the safety of Internet users. When Google finally takes steps to ensure these dangerous videos are gone for good from YouTube, the Internet will be a safer place.”
Okay, well, here’s the obvious response: Digital Citizens Alliance Executive Director Tom Galvin has allowed bogus, censorious, anti-innovation screeds to be sent by states’ attorneys general. Worse, they have promoted this FUD-filled exercise with PR spam blasts to reporters trying to generate bogus faux-moral panics to promote their own anti-innovation agenda. Hopefully, the public and reporters will be able to get answers that others have failed to get. Namely, why such an obvious bullshit astroturfing group is putting anti-innovation, anti-free speech policies into the mouths of states attorneys general, and doing so in a manner that only leads to it being more difficult for law enforcement to track down actual criminals. When the Digital Citizens Alliance finally takes steps to ensure that it stops these bogus moral panics in targeting third parties and driving the actual crimes further underground, the internet will be a safer place.
As you can see from the full letter that these guys sent, they’re demanding answers to various questions, almost all of which appear to be based on flat-out ignorance of both how the technology of offering a platform for user-generated content works, as well as the automatic nature of internet advertising. Attacking a company by showing your own ignorance of the very basic technology, enjoyed by millions of people, doesn’t seem like a particularly wise strategic political move by these attorneys general.