Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible: YouTube Says That Frank Capra's US Government WWII Propaganda Violates Community Guidelines
from the say-what-now? dept
You’ve heard me say it over and over again now: Masnick’s Impossibility Theorem is that it is literally impossible to do content moderation at scale well. There will always be dumb mistakes. The latest example? Rogue archivist Carl Malamud had posted filmmaker Frank Capra’s classic Prelude to War on YouTube. If you’re unfamiliar with Prelude to War, it’s got quite a backstory. During World War II, the US government decided that, in order to build up public support for the war, it would fund Hollywood to create blatant American propaganda. They had Frank Capra, perhaps Hollywood’s most influential director during the 1930s, produce a bunch of films under the banner “Why We Fight.” The very first of these was “Prelude to War.”
The film, which gives a US government-approved history of the lead up to World War II includes a bunch of footage of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Obviously, it wasn’t done to glorify them. The idea is literally the opposite. However, as you may recall, last summer when everyone was getting mad (again) at YouTube for hosting “Nazi” content, YouTube updated its policies to ban “videos that promote or glorify Nazi ideology.” We already covered how this was shutting down accounts of history professors. And, now, it’s apparently leading them to take US propaganda offline as well.
Malamud received a notice saying the version of “Prelude to War” that he had uploaded had been taken down for violating community guidelines. He appealed and YouTube has rejected his appeal, apparently standing by its decision that an anti-Nazi US propaganda film financed by the US government and made by famed director Frank Capra… is against the site’s community guidelines.
omg, @youtube actually denied my appeal for Frank Capra?s Prelude to War. https://t.co/4Y6002D2AE Some of his other seditious works include "It's a Wonderful Life? and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.? He graduated from CalTech and was president of the Motion Picture Academy. pic.twitter.com/pifDTgeekb
— Carl Malamud (@carlmalamud) January 13, 2020
Obviously, this is ridiculous. But, it once again highlights the impossibility of content moderation at scale. YouTube has so much content and so much new content every minute, it can’t possibly review all the content. And the content that it can review, it can’t have people researching the history and provenance of every bit of content. So, here, it appears likely that the moderation team used a fairly simple heuristic: it’s a film showing Germans celebrating Hitler. Therefore, it’s not allowed. It’s even entirely possible that the tone of the film made it clear that it was a propaganda film… it’s just that it would take too much effort to figure out propaganda for whom.
Of course, as Malamud himself points out, what’s particularly ridiculous is that this isn’t the only version of the film he’s uploaded. So while that one is still down, another one is still there. You can watch it now. Well, at least until YouTube decides this one also violates community standards.
Filed Under: carl malamud, content moderation, content moderation at scale, frank capra, masnick's impossibility theorem, nazis, prelude to war, propaganda, why we fight, world war ii