The following is a collaboration with Marc Sheppard originally posted at The American Thinker.
Five months ago, the Internet’s top search engine Google was accused of banning conservative websites from its news crawl. Last week, the e-behemoth offered to purchase YouTube, the preeminent provider of videos over the Web that has recently been implicated in censorship of its own. With their pending merger, serious questions arise about the future of the most powerful telecommunications medium on the landscape, and who if anyone is trying to control its content.
As reported by American Thinker on May 22, Internet search king Google eliminated a number of conservative e-zines and blogs from its news crawl earlier this year. In all of the cases cited, the alleged offense was the dissemination of “hate speech.”
After closer examination, the tie between all the banished websites was the publishing of articles about radical Islam and its relation to international terrorism. Yet, sites that actually were more specifically involved in such activities – like Hezb’allah’s propaganda arm in Lebanon, al Manar – were unaffected by Google’s “hate speech” policies, and continue to be a part of its news crawl.
The Liberal Bias Virus: Coming Soon to a Computer Near You
Now, five months later, the web’s leading video-sharing portal YouTube has been implicated for demonstrating a similar hypocrisy in its business practices. In the past several weeks, some leading conservative websites have had videos pulled and their accounts closed. As Robert Cox of the Washington Examiner reported on October 12:
Enter Fox News pundit, author and top-rated blogger Michelle Malkin. Last week she received notice from YouTube, the world’s most popular video sharing service, that her video had been deemed “offensive.” The result? Her account may be terminated and her videos deleted.
YouTube refused to say why her videos were “offensive” and there was no avenue available to challenge the decision. Today, her videos are gone and her voice is suppressed on the most important video “node” on the Interne.
What was the content of the offending video? You guessed it…radical Islam. As Michelle Malkin posted at her website on October 4,
Back in February, you may remember, I cobbled together a little mini-movie called “First, They Came” inspired by the Mohammed Cartoon riots. It’s a simple slideshow highlighting the victims of Islamic violence over the years.
Yet, much like the seeming double-standard employed by Google, the folks at YouTube are only offended by those speaking out against radical Islamic terrorism, not those supporting it. As reported by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on September 13,
The wildly popular video-sharing Web site YouTube.com has dozens of videos purporting to show individual American soldiers being killed in Iraq, in what amounts to snuff films, overlaid with music and insurgent slogans.
Some of the videos, including ones of American soldiers purportedly being picked off by snipers or being blown up by improvised explosive devices, have been viewed tens of thousands of times each in the past few months. Some are posted in YouTube’s “news and blogs” category, but others are listed under “entertainment” and even “comedy.”
However, YouTube doesn’t seem to be exclusively disturbed by anti-terrorist messages. NewsBusters reported on October 10 that a video posted by conservative film producer David Zucker poking fun at what the Clinton administration did to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons in the ’90s was censored by the web-video portal.
Democratic YouTube viewers used the site’s software to “flag” the video as “inappropriate,” a designation usually reserved for extremely violent or sexually explicit video clips. There is nothing even remotely sexual or violent in the clip. The closest thing to an explicit image in the ad is a scene in which “Albright” bends over and her skirt tears a bit in the seat, hardly the stuff that sets FCC commissioners’ hearts aflutter.
While you can still view the video if you watch it embedded on another web site, if you try to watch it on YouTube, you’ll be greeted with the message: “This video may contain content that is inappropriate for some users, as flagged by YouTube’s user community. To view this video, please verify you are 18 or older by logging in or signing up.”
And, on October 12, the conservative Gateway Pundit had a video of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) hanging up on an AP reporter deleted by YouTube.
Yesterday, the Associated Press released a video explaining the story they broke on Harry Reid’s land deal scandal. You can view the entire video at Reuters website linked HERE.
The video is approximately 2:40 minutes long.
I cut “17 seconds” to make the YouTube clip that I posted in this post HERE.
After several hundred hits on the clip today, YouTube just yanked it! It’s gone! Removed!
I Love a Charade
This certainly has the ring of selective policy enforcement similar to Google’s. But just what are YouTube’s policies?
As previously noted, e-mail messages demanding explanations beyond the words “inappropriate content” have fallen on blind eyes. Truth be told, Online Service Providers (SPs) which offer their wares free of charge to the end-user invariably adopt a “you’re on your own” attitude when it comes time for support. Users with questions or problems are encouraged to seek answers and solutions within the site’s on-line help system.
While this may appear similar to the ersatz “Not Responsible for Personal Property” signs often used to dissuade litigation, the law is, essentially, on their side. Section 230 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes wording which holds the donor, not the outlet, accountable for uploaded content.
In connection with User Submissions, you further agree that you will not: (i) submit material that is copyrighted, protected by trade secret or otherwise subject to third party proprietary rights, including privacy and publicity rights, unless you are the owner of such rights or have permission from their rightful owner to post the material and to grant YouTube all of the license rights granted herein; (ii) publish falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage YouTube or any third party; (iii) submit material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate; (iv) post advertisements or solicitations of business: (v) impersonate another person.
That’s quite an eyeful. Not surprisingly, copyright issues rate top-of-list mention. After all, YouTube’s very business model is based upon a premise which tests the limits of proprietary rights each and every day.
Sure, members are encouraged to “use [their] skills and imagination to create something completely original.” But, while a page entitled “Copyright Tips” offers a rather comprehensive collection of “guiding principals” to the concept, it also introduces a potential work-around for submitting non-original material.
One Man’s Copyright Infringement is Another Man’s Poetic License
The “fair use” principle of copyright law is based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. The citations used in this article, for example, are protected as fair use. However, the concept’s application to the reproduction of video content is far less cut and dry, and YouTube is all too aware of the trial balloons it has set aloft.
Indeed, the sheer ubiquity of such obvious violations as blatantly bootlegged concert footage, digitally reproduced television segments, and music videos bespeaks a tacit approval of marginal infringement from the service provider.
Nonetheless, YouTube must honor the “notice and take down” provisions of the DMCA. Their policy states that whenever they receive notifications of copyright infringement pursuant to the DMCA they will immediately remove the video. But the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulder of the complainant. As explained by communications attorney Elizabeth A. McNamara:
In order to limit a SP’s liability, the DMCA does not require SPs to remove infringing material unless a copyright holder meets its burden of supplying proper notice of an alleged infringement or of bringing a lawsuit if the User responsible for the alleged infringement files a counter-notification.
Needless to say, these protections exist to minimize the number of videos which the SP is forced to ban. The SP is, after all, in the business of delivering video content, not impeding it.
A Ruse By Any Other Name
Amazingly, all of the undesirable materials not related to copyright are grouped into the broad category of “Inappropriate Content.” Unlike copyright issues, which are challenged by individuals claiming harm, those of appropriateness are policed by YouTube’s “community.” Any member can issue a complaint about any video by simply flagging it as inappropriate. Neither specifics nor explanations are required – simply “inappropriate.”
Surely, the provider must offer their deputized thought police some guidelines. As stated on their “Copyright and Inappropriate Content” page:
As such, the potential for abuse is mind-boggling. More frightening still is the apparent assumption inherent in such a policy that a concerted effort by networked ideologues can actually determine the political complexion of the videos available. There has been much talk about how these “complaints” are received by the decision makers, and what actions may be taken in response. On October 8th, the company posted this explanation of how “flagging” works:
Of course, given the ambiguity of the company’s provisos, the leanings of that appraising “someone at YouTube” might manage to sneak into such a subjective call. Just who is the final arbiter of what does or does not appear on this increasingly vital site, and what are his or her political predilections?
Money Can Buy Me Doves
Add it all up, and with its pending buyout of YouTube as announced on October 9, Google, with its billions of dollars worth of market cap ($130 billion as of October 13!), now has the money and the vehicle to impact public opinion like no other e-company. This is crucial, for the Internet has become a significantly more important political resource in recent years.
As reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
On a typical day in August, 26 million Americans were using the internet for news or information about politics and the upcoming mid-term elections. That corresponds to 19% of adult internet users, or 13% of all Americans over the age of 18.
This is a high-point in the number of internet users turning to cyberspace on the average day for political news or information, exceeding the 21 million figure registered in a Pew Internet Project survey during the November 2004 general election campaign.
Comparing August 2006 figures to a similar point in the 2002 mid-term election cycle is particularly revealing. In July 2002, approximately 11 million Americans, or 13% of online users, said they got some news or information about politics and the campaign from the internet on the average day. The August 2006 number is nearly two-and-a-half times larger than the mid-summer 2002 figure. [Emphasis added]
Such an increase in the political power of the Internet makes this new alliance between Google and YouTube certainly worrisome for conservatives. After all, there is ample evidence that Google’s employees lean strongly to the left. According to a February 2005 USA Today article on the subject:
As it claws for greater power, the Democratic Party has found a newly rich ally in one of the fastest-growing U.S. companies: Google.
The article stated that of the over $200,000 Google employees gave to federal candidates in 2004, “98% went to Democrats, the biggest share among top tech donors.” And, with a largely successful public stock offering making “scores of millionaires among [Google’s] 3,000 workers,”
“Democrats now have a potentially potent source of cash as they fight to retake the White House and Congress.”
Potentially more telling, a May 15 “Washington Prowler” piece at The American Spectator disclosed a link between Google and the ultra-left wing MoveOn.org:
Google has become the single largest private corporate underwriter of MoveOn. According to sources in the Democrat National Committee, MoveOn has received more than $1 million from Google and its lobbyists in Washington to create grassroots support for the Internet regulation legislation [“Net Neutrality”]. Some of that money has gone to an online petition drive and a letter-writing campaign, but the majority of that money is being used to fund their activities against Republicans out in the states.
Beyond this, Google appears intimately tied to former vice president and potential 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. It is no secret that Gore is a senior advisor to Google, a position that garnered him a sizable number of shares according to Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich. On May 19’s The Big Story, Estrich discussed with host John Gibson Gore’s connection with Google, and how the wealth generated from the shares he owns in the Internet behemoth could give him enough money to finance his own presidential campaign.
This relationship goes further. According to a recent Wired magazine article about Gore, he is extremely close to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt who “supported Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.” Moreover, in April 2005, Google partnered with Gore’s cable channel, Current.
Back to the Future
The question remains: How seriously should current and future Internet users look upon this merger as a potential propaganda tool for the left? After all, once upon a time, there was a party and ideology that all but owned the means of information delivery to the American public. Along came the evil talk radio and the big-bad Internet, which spawned sites such as The Drudge Report. Almost overnight, liberal rubbish became subject to verification and dispute, and this seemingly insurmountable political advantage was almost instantly neutered.
Does the emergence of liberal-leaning Google, and its aggressive foray into video hosting and delivery represent the next media shift the left have so longed for? In reality, it’s likely too soon to tell.
Regardless of its powerful position, Google is not the only search engine available to Internet denizens, and YouTube is not the only video portal. Yet, there’s strength in numbers, and theirs combined represents a formidable weapon in the increasingly important information wars.
Wireless broadband networks continue to build out in both coverage area and bandwidth at breakneck speeds. New and exciting integrated handheld devices are just beyond the horizon, promising to convey the wonders of the Internet into the lives of virtually every single citizen of voting age. These enhanced wireless gadgets will deliver news, entertainment and social networking in a manner which will make them virtually indispensable. Predictably, many will rely on them as their primary if not sole source of information and opinion.
Of course, data leviathans the likes of Google will strive to maintain delivery dominance as techniques evolve. Consequently, tuned-in political experts surely recognize the proselytism potential of this new paradigm as greater than any other in history. After all, to influence or, perhaps, control the predominant providers of information content is to do so with the minds which absorb such content.
These are the fronts on which the future battles of the information war will be fought. At stake is the level playing field which took decades to achieve. Defeat is not an option as it would inflict the return of liberal media dominance at a time when its consequence would be nothing short of catastrophic.