YouTube Gives UK Gov't Broad Powers To Censor Videos It Doesn't Like, Even If They're Legal [Update: Or Not]

from the i'm-sure-that-won't-be-abused-at-all... dept

Update: It appears that this story was misreported by a few sources, and the fans were flamed by UK government comments about censoring videos. Youtube has as program that lets trusted sources more easily flag videos that are then reviewed fairly quickly by YouTube staff. However, these videos still get reviewed to see if they violate any of YouTube’s terms of service, rather than automatically pulled down. It’s still concerning that the UK government seems to think that it should censor content that even they believe is not legal, but it doesn’t appear that YouTube is actually letting the UK government censor videos.

A few years ago, then-Senator Joe Lieberman went on a bizarre anti-free speech crusade against YouTube, arguing that by allowing “terrorists” to post videos to YouTube, people were watching those videos and magically turning into terrorists. Because YouTube videos are just that powerful. Given the public shaming, Google actually caved in and started banning “terrorist” videos. Of course, how do you define a “terrorist” video? The fact is we just don’t know, and that’s evidenced by the fact that Lieberman’s efforts resulted in videos from a Syrian watchdog organization being taken down as terrorism — when they were really reporting on the atrocities of that country’s government. If anything, you’d think this would be a clear warning about the perils of trying to censor “terrorist” videos. You’re going to get it wrong, and often block important and newsworthy videos.

But… instead it appears that this effort is only ramping up, and unfortunately, YouTube seems to be helping. Over in the UK, where the government has been gradually censoring more and more of the internet over the past few years, Google has apparently agreed to give the UK government broad powers to “flag” videos they argue are bad, even if they’re not illegal. Ostensibly, the goal is to block videos that “proliferate jihadi material.”

The YouTube permissions that Google has given the Home Office in recent weeks include the power to flag swaths of content “at scale” instead of only picking out individual videos.

They are in part a response to a blitz from UK security authorities to persuade internet service providers, search engines and social media sites to censor more of their own content for extremist material even if it does not always break existing laws.

And the UK government even admits that the videos it will be taken down are not illegal:

The UK’s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some material “that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive”.

Of course, that kind of statement shows the program is wide open to abuse. The sort of material people would not want to see or receive? Well, then they just don’t watch it. Besides, who gets to decide what people would not want to see? Because there’s lots of important content that a government might not want its citizens to see, but which are kind of important to a functioning democracy and open society.

While I’m sure the pressure from the government here was quite strong, it’s upsetting to see Google cave in to these kinds of requests. Giving the UK government a giant “censor this video” button seems like exactly the wrong approach.

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Comments on “YouTube Gives UK Gov't Broad Powers To Censor Videos It Doesn't Like, Even If They're Legal [Update: Or Not]”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Whelp...

OK. It seems you’re right: Google will remove flagged videos that violate their general content policies. I do think, however, that Google has different content standards for different countries. As such, something removed from YouTube UK would not necessarily be removed from YouTube US.

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

Re: Re:

How long before this is used to censor libertarian and anarchist political viewpoints, along with green and socialist viewpoints?
Libertarian and anarchist political viewpoints are the order of the day in Tory circles, so I’d say “never.”

Green and Socialist viewpoints are currently regarded as “questionable.” While I tend to agree with some Green policies and disagree with Socialism, we actually need them to provide balance in politics. Basically, having them on the other side of the spectrum creates a healthy middle. A quick look across the Pond shows us what happens when the Green/Left gets pushed out to the margins. Basically, over there, the middle of the Right is considered middle ground and the Greens/Left are considered to be anti-American/terrorists in some circles. That is not healthy.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Missing a few words there

‘The UK?s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some material ?that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that we want people to see or receive?. ‘

This has nothing to do with people no longer being ‘forced’ to watch stuff they don’t want to, as there’s already a way to do that: don’t watch the objectionable video. Rather, this is entirely about the UK government, yet again, acting as state nanny and determining just what people should and shouldn’t be able to see/watch/listen to.

‘Big Brother is watching you’ indeed…

Anonymous Coward says:

One can almost see a pattern here. One of we don’t like criticism or unfavorable viewpoints.

More and more is being opened up as the global citizen eyes continue to look at all these security branches. They are finding out it is far worst than was first revealed. There seems to be no end to how far they will go to control and no hold back as to how much is enough.

Even more worrying is a statement from Snowden that most of these secret programs have yet to be revealed. Which one could take to mean there are some real bombshells yet to go off. If that is the case then this censoring of youtube is like dandruff. Annoying but not any where as important as things yet to be revealed.

Rikuo (profile) says:

I’m going to go out on a wild limb here but do not act surprised when any videos showing clips from V for Vendetta are blocked in the UK. After all, what does V do at the end of the movie?
He causes the explosive demolition of Parliament to showcase the downfall of a corrupt and totalitarian government hellbent on spying on its own citizens “for your protection”. Can’t be giving anyone any ideas now can we?

I'm_Having_None_Of_It says:

Re: Re:

Blowing up a building wouldn’t solve anything. The corrupt totalitarian government is run by civil servants who carry out the policies of the ministers in charge of the various departments and they’re housed in different buildings.

To promote the downfall of the current regime we need to get people on board and get them to apply pressure via the ballot box. Unfortunately they tend to swing right when threatened and vote for UKIP and the BNP. They’re basically Tories on steroids and the Establishment parties are the problem.

If we can get enough people to vote for the smaller moderate parties, we’ve got a chance. An actual revolution would only open the door to explicit tyranny as either the current Government cracked down on “terrorism” or the one that replaces it did so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well

Well of course, it’s not the ‘official’ dictionary they use, but it is the one their actions are based upon.

Remember, the US and UK governments(the UK more than the US in this case) have been using anti-terrorism laws against the news agencies and reporters exposing their actions, so it’s pretty clear that they believe that exposing their illegal/quasi-legal actions is the action of a terrorist.

zip says:

I noticed that during the Iraq war, Youtube had a policy of deleting just about every video that had the slightest whiff of anti-US sentiment. I’m not talking about graphic blood-and-guts violence here, just anything that claimed to be posted by the opposing side of the war/occupation.

But anyone who cared to get past the title would see that many of these videos did not live up to their claims. I remember watching one video that claimed to show a US tank being blown up. In reality, the roadside bomb exploded much too far from the tank to cause any possible damage, other than blowing some dust on it. It was also a small explosive charge that would probably not done any damage even if the tank tread had been on top of it when it exploded. So the whole thing was nothing more than an empty boast.

I explained all this in the Youtube page comments. Then when I went back a short time later, the page had been deleted.

Although Youtube had a horrible censorship policy, Google Video seemed to be much more lenient in allowing videos that expressed anti-American sentiment.

zip says:

Re: Re: I noticed that during the Iraq war

“The Iraq war started in 2003. YouTube didn?t come into existence until 2005.”

The US occupation of Iraq lasted for almost nine years, and the heaviest fighting occurred during the middle years of that occupation. Even before being owned by Google, YouTube had a reputation of extreme one-sided censorship when it came to war. Although even scenes of death and graphic violence were permitted as long as the victims were America’s enemies, any videos of military operations claiming to come from anti-US (“jihadist”) groups were banned outright.

The only US-based video site back then that dared show uncensored Iraq war video from the opposing side was, which was unfortunately an x-rated ‘snuff’-oriented site made famous by its catalog of prisoner beheadings and other filmed murders.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sounds nice on paper but, much like DMCA claims, I expect that rather than wade through all the countless claims(because you know they’re going to ‘outsource’ the flagging to bots), and potentially deal with any legal responsibility, YT/Google will likely just take down the majority of content flagged by them.

Now, I’d love to be wrong on this, but the fact that Google caved on this in the first place suggests that cynicism, not optimism, is likely to be the better assumption here.

Not New says:

This is in the finest tradition of Maggie Thatcher. Hands up all who remember –

“Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend.”

Speech 1985, excerpt:

The terrorist uses force because he knows he will never get his way by democratic means.

Through calculated savagery, his aim is to induce fear in the hearts of people. And weariness towards resistance.

In this evil strategy, the actions of the media are all important. For newspapers and television, acts of terrorism inevitably make good copy and compelling viewing. The hijacker and the terrorist thrive on publicity: without it, their activities and their influence are sharply curtailed. There is a fearful progression, which the terrorists exploit to the full. They see how acts of violence and horror dominate the newspaper columns and television screens of the free world. They see how that coverage creates a natural wave of sympathy for the victims and pressure to end their plight no matter what the consequence. And the terrorists exploit it. Violence and atrocity command attention. We must not play into their hands.

Mr. President, let us make no mistake: the threat from terrorism is growing constantly. The terrorist has access to ever more money. He operates across national boundaries. Modern technology makes the terrorists job easier and that of the security forces more difficult.

Now there is a new dimension, brought home to us in the horrific hijacking of your TWA aircraft a few weeks ago: not only an aircraft but an airport were in the hands of hijackers.

Increasingly we see evidence of links between the terrorist groups of different countries. They share funds, training, intelligence and weapons?and a total ruthlessness.

Could anything more clearly point up the need for the Governments and security services of all civilised nations to work together against such people? For a victory for terrorism anywhere is a victory for terrorism everywhere.

Nor is terrorism confined to countries where lawlessness and anarchy prevail. Its followers abuse the very freedom of open societies to do their evil work. Where they cannot get their way by the ballot box they use the bomb. They intimidate or they eliminate those who stand in their way.

The more open our society, the more we must be on our guard. Civilised societies cannot use the weapons of terrorism to fight the terrorist. But we must take every possible precaution to protect ourselves: sustained security measures for our aircraft and our airports: constant checking of people and luggage however irksome: combined action to penalise countries which harbour and assist terrorists: and above all the closest possible cooperation on pre-emptive intelligence. Too often in the past our countries have begun well but then slackened and grown complacent, making ourselves easier targets.

We have behind us many fine declarations and communiques of good intent. We need action; action to which all countries are committed until the terrorist knows that he has no haven, no escape. Alas that is far from true today.

And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?


any moose cow word says:

Re: Re:

In other words: terrorist resort to extreme measures to be heard, so we must go to even more extreme measures to prevent them from being heard. And yet after 30 years, how is anyone not surprised that this perpetually self-defeating policy DOES NOT WORK?

Where they cannot get their way by the ballot box they use the bomb. They intimidate or they eliminate those who stand in their way.

Sounds like US foreign policy.

Seriously though, the only quote here that’s of any value is this:

Civilized societies cannot use the weapons of terrorism to fight the terrorist.

We cannot win against terrorist by aimlessly bombing civilians. By forcing them to choose between two extremist militant factions, they’ll come to see the devil they know as the lesser of two evils.

Christopher Allan Webber (user link) says:

Why we need alternatives

This kind of thing is exactly why centralized media publishing like YouTube is a problem: it’s just too easy to do things like this.

Luckily, some of us are working on building an alternative type of media publishing… you can see a video here:

Without the ability of people to control their own media publishing, these problems will get worse and worse… but we can build alternatives!

Anonymous Coward says:

The UK?s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some material ?that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that certain* people would want to see or receive?.


*And by “certain people” I mean government politicians, their corporate masters, and the vocal religious minority that they simultaneously manipulate and pander to.

Anonymous Coward says:


The UK?s security and immigration minister, James Brokenshire, said that the British government has to do more to deal with some material ?that may not be illegal, but certainly is unsavoury and may not be the sort of material that people would want to see or receive?.

Yeah. Who cares about the letter of the law? The government should be free to censor anything it wants to, legal or not.

You brits take censorship too lightly: Mandatory ratings on movies and videogames, mandatory porn filters, censorship of anything the least bit offensive on television because of a handful of angry letters to Ofcom. What else?

Then there’s your love of surveillance…

You folks really need better leaders.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: UK

Those porn filters are mandatory for ISPs. People can opt out of the system, but the default is to censor anything the system thinks of as naughty, sometimes mistakenly.

I mostly agree with your comments about the US, except we don’t seem to love surveillance cameras as much as you guys.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Huh? Who are these “tech guys”? Why do you think all “tech guys” share the same opinion on anything at all?

I know quite a few tech guys who work on internet infrastructure, and they don’t think it can be fixed. They think it must be replaced. But until there’s a popular alternative, it’s a matter of good social policy to fix the current internet as much as is possible.

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