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.

Filed Under: censorship, companies, free speech, isis, james foley, jeff bercovici, steven sotloff, youtube
Companies: google, youtube


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 11:38am

    The the historical value of these videos cannot be understated, as they will influence foreign policy. It's extremely important that they be preserved. Imagine censoring films of the Holocaust or pictures from Abu Ghraib. The public's right to evaluate history should never be infringed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 11:42am

    I almost always agree completely with the Op/Ed pieces on Techdirt. Not so much this time. Basically what you're saying here is that YouTube should not have a content policy. Early on, they decided to exclude videos that depict adult (sexual) content, graphic violence and gore, content meant to harass or threaten, and hate speech. They did this because they wanted to cultivate a certain kind of community. That is their right and many would argue that it's a good thing. Insisting that they suspend the policy when the video is national news isn't a good idea, IMHO. YouTube aren't journalists, they're a social network. If the video is important for journalism, it can be hosted at a news site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:04pm

      Re:

      Your reductionist argument is silly. I'm OF COURSE not saying they should have no content policy, I'm saying that their content policy in this instance is a wrong action. The value of an enemies speech and action and, perhaps more importantly, the value of access to that which will influence public policy, is of course not analogous to pornography.

      Come up with a better argument.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      "YouTube aren't journalists, they're a social network."

      YouTube isn't a social network. It's a video delivery service.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:48pm

      Re:

      Early on, they decided to exclude videos that depict adult (sexual) content, graphic violence and gore [emphasis added]


      I guess you've never watched BlackBoxTV.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 11:46am

    Platforms

    While I believe in free speech, I have a problem with giving groups like ISIS a worldwide platform to spew their detritus. For me, it is like looking for 'if it bleeds it leads' in the worst possible way, as well as giving aid and comfort to groups that want the rest of the world either dead or kowtowing to their ideology.

    Do you really want to live under Sharia law? Should we help advertise their zealotry? Is providing nightly video of whatever nasty things they want to say or do a free public relations platform so they can spread their words of hate, proper?

    I am not suggesting the world should not know about them, or their actions. I am suggesting that a more responsible method of doing that communication should be taking place. I am unsure of the best method to provide the news while maintaining some sense of (oh I don't know, I want to say decorum, but that isn't quite right)...

    Oh, just one more thing. Any western reporter who puts themselves within their grasp surely appears to be asking for trouble. ISIS has proven the cannot be trusted, and that they could give a rats patootie about anyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:46pm

      Re: Platforms

      Because hiding the truth from people just works so damn well.

      So... are you pro sex eduction or are you pro hiding it from them until they are adults wondering all that time why they want to get naked in front of anther person they like?

      If you believe in education... then the dirt of humanity comes with it, or you you will die when that dirt shows up all of a sudden.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Be The Beacon

    The most important line in the Greenwald article is: "The First Amendment bans speech abridgments by the state, not by private actors. There’s plainly nothing illegal about Twitter, Facebook and the like suppressing whatever ideas they choose to censor." This list includes Google.

    Now, onto whether they _should_ show the video. It's your opinion that Google should embrace the principles of free speech, but it has absolutely no obligation to do so. TechDirt has made a point in the past that Google is NOT "the Internet" because many people (usually judges, it seems) seem to think otherwise. However, it is also true that Google is NOT the guardian of free speech and—unlike the US Govt—has no inherent responsibility to protect free speech.

    I challenge you to find the video (this is the Internet, so it shouldn't be too hard) and host it on TechDirt. Put your money where your mouth is. Be the beacon of anti-censorship and free speech that Google is failing to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:27pm

      Re: Be The Beacon

      "I challenge you to find the video (this is the Internet, so it shouldn't be too hard) and host it on TechDirt. Put your money where your mouth is. Be the beacon of anti-censorship and free speech that Google is failing to be."

      I, for one, would have no problem complying with this, and would actually consider it a moral duty to take a stand in that manner. That said, I don't make those kinds of decisions, nor have I even had any internal discussions about it, so I don't mean to imply anyone else here is ducking your challenge.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:05pm

    "This is how you get an American public uninformed about the brutality of groups like ISIS/ISIL."
    What the hell?

    By this idiotic logic, we should leave the personal nude photos of the celebrities online because the public is uninformed of the hacker group who took them.

    There's a fine line between censorship and the disrespect of life, liberty, and justice for all.

    Guess where I stand when it comes to a video of the decapitation.

    If a still image can't get the message across, a video sure as hell won't fix this kind of stupid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:14pm

      Re:

      "There's a fine line between censorship and the disrespect of life, liberty, and justice for all."

      I don't understand this comment. Censorship is always in opposition to the concept of liberty, by definition.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Bengie, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:21pm

      Re:

      Censorship in all forms is ethically wrong. Fix society, stop trying to hide the issues.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christopher, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:15pm

    The problem here is that while we have a first amendment, almost all of the actual venues we have for speech are privately owned.

    The ability to make choices about what content you allow or disallow is important for private publishers; like, for example, a blog might eliminate spam marketing in its comment section.

    So places like Youtube, Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook are in kind of an awkward position. On the one hand, they are all private businesses, but on the other they are our main venues for expressing ourselves in the modern world. The more they censor speech, the less the first amendment means in actual terms.

    If we have free speech, but nobody will publish it, than free speech is fairly useless; on the other hand, you can't just force every private actor to publish speech they disagree with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:22pm

      Re:

      "they are our main venues for expressing ourselves in the modern world"

      I don't think so. I don't use any of those services at all, but I still see and engage in plenty of expression.

      "If we have free speech, but nobody will publish it, than free speech is fairly useless; on the other hand, you can't just force every private actor to publish speech they disagree with."

      This is, perhaps, the biggest benefit of the internet: you don't have to have anyone publish your speech. You can do it yourself for a low enough cost that almost anyone can afford it, and distribute your speech to millions and millions of people.

      This neatly dodges the (very real) problem you point out. While freedom of the press only applies to the people who own the press, now we can all own a press.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 10:11pm

        Re: Re:

        The problem isn't that we don't have access to presses, the problem is that Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. effectively control the street corners. If you can only hand out flyers in obscure back-streets and small meeting-halls which are themselves limited in their ability to advertise themselves, and the post office will refuse to handle your mail (i.e. server companies refusing to host questionable content) your ability to actually use your freedom of the press is restricted.

        This isn't just an online problem - not only are private shopping malls replacing traditional town centres, but also there are towns creating management corporations for shopping precincts, parks, public squares, and so on which have wider and more arbitrary censorship powers than the local government body.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 8 Sep 2014 @ 8:48am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "the problem is that Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. effectively control the street corners."

          I don't think this is true at all. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are all have extremely popular sites, but they aren't locking anyone else out of running and advertising their own site.

          "server companies refusing to host questionable content"

          You can find web hosts that are willing to host anything. But even if you can't, the only reason to use a web host company at all is purely convenience. You can host a web site without involving any of those companies with relatively little trouble.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ChrisB (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      This argument made sense a decade or so ago. But the internet has made people free to share information without asking gatekeepers permission. Stop trying to create more gatekeepers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Christopher (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:32pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm not asking for more gatekeepers; my point is that we have too many already.

        If the internet has made people "free to share information without asking gatekeepers permission" then you have to admit that the premise of this article is completely wrong.

        If the internet has eliminated gatekeepers, it doesn't matter in the slightest what Google does or doesn't allow on youtube, because we no longer need to ask gatekeepers like google for permission to publish; the offensive speech that Geigner supports will simply be published elsewhere on the internet.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Dark Helmet (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:37pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "If the internet has eliminated gatekeepers, it doesn't matter in the slightest what Google does or doesn't allow on youtube, because we no longer need to ask gatekeepers like google for permission to publish; the offensive speech that Geigner supports will simply be published elsewhere on the internet."

          And it is. My argument is not, and was not ever, that because YouTube censored the video that it was unavailable at all. My point is that the reality is that YouTube is a major resource for video sharing in this country and it is wrong for YouTube to censor a video that has public value and news value.

          You seem to be arguing against an imaginary Timothy Geigner, which is fine. I only request that you make imaginary Timothy Geigner incredibly handsome while you're at it....

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Christopher (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:07pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You seem to be arguing against an imaginary Timothy Geigner, which is fine.

            No, I'm arguing with ChrisB; that's why I replied to his comment. If his premise is correct, yours is wrong, and vice versa.

            What I was trying to do is point out that my original post made the assumption that youtube is a major resource for speech not because I want more gatekeepers, or because I don't know how the internet works, but because that assumption is baked into your article.

            I was saying that if ChrisB wants to argue that the internet has eliminated the necessity of gatekeepers, he's also pretty much rejecting the premise of your article.

            And, on the other hand, my accepting the premise of your article doesn't mean that I want more private restrictions on speech.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 2:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "If his premise is correct, yours is wrong, and vice versa."

              I don't see the conflict between the two points, really, so I think this is a false dichotomy.

              ChrisB was not saying there aren't gatekeepers, he was saying (quite correctly) that you don't need to deal with the gatekeepers to get your message out. You can simply do it yourself.

              What DH is talking about is one of the gatekeepers (YouTube) that ChrisB hasn't denied the existence of.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      anon, 6 Sep 2014 @ 12:56am

      Re:

      Soon enough you won't only have "Free Speech Zones" but also "Freedom Zones".

      I mean holy crap the U.S. has done a complete 360 and straight into NAZI land... disgusting really

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:18pm

    I wonder what The Internet Archive's policy is on these types of media.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:27pm

    Last I heard, anyone can buy a domain and put up a website and host a video - even ISIS.

    It's not the responsibility of private companies to host every video that's offered to them, and Youtube has some clearly established guidelines about real violence.

    The only real free speech question is if ISIS should be allowed to host the video themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 12:26am

      Re:

      There is also the question of whether (and how) they can advertise their domain. If you can only find out about their site by reading the whois database, that's not much use. If they're excluded from Google et al, that's a restriction, albeit not a huge one. If anyone who links to them is blocked, that starts to become more serious.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 12:44pm

    Forbes isn't news they're a business magazine ,what real reporting do they actually do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Sep 2014 @ 1:57pm

    If ISIS is the enemy why is Obama still trying to give them hundreds of millions of dollars to fight Assad in Syria?

    Or could it be this is all smoke and mirrors to distract Americans from problems at home

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Sep 2014 @ 9:32am

    Censor yourself

    If you had to watch those beheadings, you're a sick fuck and I don't have any sympathy for what you want or don't understand about common decency in America. US should destroy Isis in a fucking hurry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jim Davis, 7 Sep 2014 @ 12:53am

    Editorial Policy

    Editorial policy is not censorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Sep 2014 @ 4:48am

      Re: Editorial Policy

      It is effectively the same thing when the edited distributor becomes sufficiently dominant - look at the effect of editorial policy on US films, especially during the Hays Code era. (A more modern example would be voluntary site blocking performed by ISPs based on lists like the IWF's.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    LAB (profile), 7 Sep 2014 @ 5:56am

    "YouTube is a major resource for video sharing in this country and it is wrong for YouTube to censor a video that has public value and news value."

    No it is not. Youtube is a private entity, a company whose purpose is to make $$. They are not a government actor and have no duty to attempt to be one. They can refuse to host whatever they like. If the argument is they should lose ad revenue to play videos counter to their content policy because they have public or news value, I'm sure youtube would tell you go start up your own video hosting channel and stop trying to dictate their content. In addition, they might exclaim "we are trying to run a business here."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SortingHat, 13 Feb 2015 @ 9:04pm

    Can't even comment on Forbes

    Forbes.com won't even let me comment. When I try to register I get a captcha thingy with no image on it so there is no way to proceed.

    Are they blocking new users or has my IP been *blaclisted* somehow?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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