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YouTube Censorship: An Orwellian Digital Nightmare

Documentarians beware–You Tube is not what it used to be.

Some years ago, in the early days of e-reading, Amazon made an astonishing blunder and deleted George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from the e-reading devices of thousands of readers who had paid for those books. Apparently Amazon suddenly discovered they didn’t have rights to them. It was a rude awakening for many about the Digital Revolution’s capacity for censorship. Even if the reasons for the deletions weren’t due to censorship, it was nevertheless ironic that these two books so identified with Big Brother and the power of the state to crush and eliminate dissent was deleted.

Enter YouTube. Over the course of the last year, YouTube, like Facebook, Twitter and other social media providers have had to adjust to demands that they deal with their being used for hate speech, terrorist recruitment, underage sexual abuse etc. Facebook and Twitter have responded with hiring thousands of people to check out postings and close accounts being used for such purposes. This has had mixed success.

YouTube, on the other hand, has tried to impose a “community standards” ruling both on the placement of advertising near hateful or terrorist postings as well as takedown orders for many of these sites. However in the process of doing so, You Tube has created an arcane process worthy of Orwell himself for issuing takedowns, limitations and restrictions.

My own experience with coming up against YouTube’s nameless, faceless community standards committee (which I suspect but can’t verify is very likely simply an algorithm) had to do with a video of Canadian Adeena Karasick’s poem “I Got a Crush on Osama,” a satire based on the I Got a Crush on Obama video that was a hit of the 2008 campaign.

This video was posted over eight years ago, had about 9,000+ hits and generated some controversy for its cheeky wordplay and visual imagery. Some people found its humor offensive but most people realized it was an ironic satire that if it was aimed at offending anyone, would have offended serious jihadists—not anyone with sanity, a sense of humour or intelligence. Yet, inexplicably, Dr. Karasick’s video was taken down supposedly because it had received a complaint regarding its transgressing YouTube’s newly minted community standards act.

Now to those of you who have never been through YouTube’s “community standards” procedures, you are not allowed to see what the actual complaint was against your video; hence my use of the word supposedly. You are allowed one appeal and one appeal only, done on-line to some nameless entity (most likely, as I stated earlier, an algorithm).

There is no one you can contact, talk to or in any way communicate with other than this one screen. Talk about Big Brother – this would be perfect in his world. Remote control by a faceless entity, possibly automated but definitely unaccountable to anyone and anything, able to censor at will anything it doesn’t like. That is what cool, hip You Tube has turned into: an agent of Big Brother. By the way, if you want to check out Adeena Karasick’s video, it is still available for public viewing on Vimeo.


Video – I Got A Crush on Osama from Robert Kasher on Vimeo.

What is also clear is that Karasick isn’t the only victim here. In fact, there has been a great deal of censorship going on with videos coming out of the LGBTQ community as well as videos documenting stories of female trafficking, sexual abuse, and racism.

The way Google is censoring these videos is multiple and diverse. It includes depriving them of ad revenue. Matan Utzel, whose YouTube Channel Real Women, Real Stories, documenting through interviews the real life stories of many women victimized by abuse, trafficking and sexism has seen ad revenue essentially blocked, thus depriving the channel of funds needed for programming.

In the case of the LGBTQ community, YouTube has been using a policy called Restricted Mode to essentially hide programming on stories of coming out, first love, and other aspects of same sex relationships. This has even affected popular YouTube superstars like Tyler Oakley, who has over 8 million subscribers, and recently had a video entitled “8 Black LGBTQ+ Trailblazers Who Inspired Me” restricted even though it contained no Adult content. While YouTube apologized for this and other acts against LGBTQ+ videos, it has not currently removed any of the restricted bans in spite of numerous promises to do so.

What is YouTube not censoring? Well racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi videos and rants such as The Jews Who Rule America. David Duke, Brother Nathaniel, Alex Jones and the many racist postings from numerous Breitbart correspondents still receive prominent play on YouTube apparently because they attract big audiences and aren’t easily censored by algorithm even though advertisers often complain about being paired with that kind of video.

You Tube’s response has been inadequate, unhelpful and damaging. It is no longer a media for free creative expression but a channel run by a combination of hypocrisy, ineptitude and insensitivity that censors real creativity while popularizing hate and prejudice. Documentarians beware–You Tube is not what it used to be. Find alternatives if you want to be assured of an audience.

A pioneer in the field of Digital Publishing, Bob Kasher was the co-founder of Database Directories – Canada’s first digital publisher in 1994. He was an early driving force behind the development of multi-platform digital publishing through his development of MPS Mobile and Global Reader while at Macmillan/Holtzbrinck. He has lectured extensively on the subject at industry forums throughout the world. Currently he is a member of the W3C/IDPF’s EPUB 3 Working Group as well as being involved with the Book Industry Study Group’s (BISG) Rights and Permissions Controlled Vocabulary and Content Structure initiatives. He has been a Rights Consultant working to develop Rights and Permissions automation software and services with both Digi-Rights and First Source. He has worked in senior positions in the field of Publishing and Media Services for over 10 years. Currently he is VP for Strategic Alliances with Crimson Enago Interactive.

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