Forbes Praises YouTube Censoring Steven Sotloff Beheading Video
from the getting-it-wrong dept
Following the horrific actions of ISIS/ISIL, in which the group beheaded American journalist James Foley and plastered the video in online forums like Twitter and YouTube, I argued that it is important that the American Public be given the chance to repudiate the aim of the video: paralyzing us with fear. Adding to that thought, Glenn Greenwald argued that the reason one must fight against censorship in the most egregious of speech cases is that such cases are often where the limitation of speech is legitimized. While this may not be a First Amendment consideration, since those sites are not affiliated with the government, it would be a mistake to suggest that free speech is limited as a concept to that narrow legal definition. Free and open speech is an ideal, one that is codified into law in some places, and one which enjoys a more relaxed but important status within societal norms.
I can only assume it’s a lack of understanding in both arguments above that has led one Forbes writer to rush to praise YouTube for taking down the latest ISIS/ISIL video. You’ve almost certainly heard that another American has been beheaded at the hands of civilization’s enemy, yet you’ll have a much harder time finding the video of Steven Sotloff’s death on YouTube this time around. Jeff Bercovici suggests this is a good thing.
With 100 hours of new footage uploaded every minute, YouTube says it doesn’t, and couldn’t, prescreen content, relying on users to flag violations. In this case, its monitors were, unfortunately, expecting the Sotloff video to be posted after weeks of threats by his captors and a widely circulated video plea by his mother to spare his life. That readiness allowed them to remove the video and shut down the account that posted it within hours.
This is how you get an American public uninformed about the brutality of groups like ISIS/ISIL. It’s how you legitimize terror groups who themselves wish to impose limitations on the types of things the people under their rule are allowed to see and do. It’s the start of how the American public is refused the opportunity to witness the full story. And that last part is especially egregious in a time and place where images rule the news cycle. Here the public is, inundated with the story of an American journalist being murdered at the hands of a group that considers that public a target for violence, and the public isn’t even given the opportunity to see the images at hand.
This, of course, isn’t to argue that people should be forced to watch the brutality. But, as I argued before, denying the American people the opportunity to disabuse ISIS/ISIL of the notion that they can scare us into inaction is something we shouldn’t stand for. YouTube can do this, but they shouldn’t, and they certainly shouldn’t be praised for it.
YouTube, on the other hand, has given itself more latitude to make judgement calls by basing its policies on common sense rather than First Amendment absolutism…For tech companies to embrace the principle of free expression is laudable — but they should also leave themselves the maneuverability to deal with bad actors who care nothing for that or any other civilized value.
This misunderstands the most important value of free speech: allowing the evil in the world to identify itself. Once we start down the road of disappearing the speech we deem to not have any value, you open the door for alternative interpretations of the value on a whole host of other speech. Censoring the bad actors doesn’t make them go away, it only refuses to shine the public light on them. It keeps people from being able to confront the horrible reality that exists and the group that wants to do us harm. That can’t be allowed to continue.