Monday, December 03, 2007

YouTube Censorship: Gratuitous Violence or Anti-Torture Activism?

An award-winning blogger named Wael Abbas has been posting videos on YouTube documenting cases of brutality and even torture used by the Egyptian Police over the past three years. This would seem, on the surface, to be an extremely worthy endeavor, revealing the Egyptian regime's anti-humanitarian practices to the world. However, YouTube decided last week to shut down Abbas's account, citing that the "gratuitous violence" in the videos violated its Terms of Service.

Certainly, there are very valid reasons for YouTube and other websites that emphasize user-generated content to create minimal restrictions over what type of content can be shared. After all, nobody wants children to have completely unfettered access to pornography and insanely violent depictions. However, democracy is best served when those concerns strike a balance with other worthwhile journalistic efforts that reveal what is happening in the world - and which often isn't pretty.

In response to an outcry in the blogosphere, YouTube has since restored Abbas's account, though the restored account no longer contains any of the approximately 100 videos that he posted. This is a positive first step on YouTube's behalf, for surely a pro-democracy, anti-torture activist should, at the very least, not be punished for their humanitarian efforts. But it should be a first step, not the entire solution.

Common sense suggests that there needs to be a better balance between determining what is gratuitously violent and unsuitable for children versus what is a responsible journalistic attempt to expose the truth about current events. On YouTube's end, they could implement a ratings system (think movie ratings like "PG" and "R"), but rather than having YouTube or the content creator provide the rating for a particular video, use a voting-based system where all YouTube users could determine a video's classification. On the individual end, people can choose other forums besides YouTube, with less restrictive Terms of Service agreements, to post their content, or avoid the headache entirely and host their own website.


At 9:10 AM, Blogger Fitz said...

I understand your point Rob and see the value of a user-imposed ratings system but what would prevent anyone from circumventing that rating system? What would stop a 14 from viewing X rated video?

At 11:08 AM, Blogger Robert J. Domanski said...

Hi Dan - You raise a great question.

The intent of the ratings system would not be to make it impossible for children to view certain content, just as how the movie rating system doesn't really prevent kids from seeing "R" movies. However, such a system would at least signal to the public what type of content it was. This in and of itself would help alleviate some concerns raised by the YouTube case, and perhaps with a voluntary ratings system in place, YouTube could create optional filters for parents.


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