Wednesday, November 28, 2007

More Double Standards at YouTube?

As YouTube is gearing up with CNN to host a Republican presidential debate on Wednesday, the video-sharing service is finding itself embroiled in another censorship controversy with an Egyptian blogger named Wael Abbas:

The video-sharing Web site YouTube has suspended the account of a prominent Egyptian anti-torture activist who posted videos of what he said was brutal behaviour by some Egyptian policemen, the activist said.

Wael Abbas said close to 100 images he had sent to YouTube were no longer accessible, including clips depicting purported police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government demonstrations. YouTube, owned by search engine giant Google Inc, did not respond to a written request for comment. A message on Abbas's YouTube user page,, read: "This account is suspended."

"They closed it (the account) and they sent me an e-mail saying that it will be suspended because there were lots of complaints about the content, especially the content of torture," Abbas told Reuters in a telephone interview. Abbas, who won an international journalism award for his work this year, said that of the images he had posted to YouTube, 12 or 13 depicted violence in Egyptian police stations.

Abbas was a key player last year in distributing a clip of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomised with a stick by a police officer -- imagery that sparked an uproar in a country where rights groups say torture is commonplace.

That tape prompted an investigation that led to a rare conviction of two policemen, who were sentenced to three years in prison for torture.

Abbas's videos and pictures are admittedly very graphic depictions of disturbing violence. My guess is they also feature nudity as well, both of which are violations of YouTube's terms of use. For that reason, YouTube's removal of the clips isn't necessarily wrong (although I personally would make exceptions to such policies if the content in question is news reports). What is wrong is the site's apparent double-standard when it comes to offensive content.

As Stephen Hayes points out, YouTube hasn't touched videos featuring full nudity when the topic in question is the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

Why the disparity when it comes to "inappropriate" content? I think it's mainly a matter of who's complaining about it. In my experience with YouTube, I've noticed a few things:

  • There are fewer conservatives and libertarians who have registered YouTube accounts.
  • There are more videos on YouTube than its staff can possibly monitor.
  • Liberals are far more likely to misuse YouTube's "rate" and "flag" tools to downgrade videos they personally dislike such as the famous anti-Democrat ad which angry liberals managed to get classified as "inappropriate," despite the fact that it is completely nonviolent and nonsexual.
  • People who feel very passionately about their religion also seem to downgrade videos which attack their faiths. We've previously reported how this happens among Muslims.

Throw in a little ideological uniformity among YouTube employees and you get the mess we currently have.

Some suggestions to fix this situation:

  • More conservatives and libertarians need to get signed up for YouTube. It is part of MSM 2.0 and unlike MSM 1.0, anyone can help decide what gets put there.
  • YouTube should give "moderation points" to users to allow them only a certain number of votes.After that margin has been reached, they should not be allowed to vote on videos until the next week.
  • Users who consistently vote one-star or five stars should receive fewer points.