Globe Editorial: Censor YouTube

The YouTube video mashup of Apple’s famous “1984” Super Bowl Ad, with Hillary Clinton appearing as Big Brother, has generated considerable buzz–here’s a random sample:

The Boston Globe editorialized about the video today, concluding with this hand-wringing paragraph:

But suppose it was two or three days before a close election, and a scurrilous, deceitful, anonymous clip was posted on YouTube and the other sites that specialize in homemade videos. Candidates should, of course, monitor all these sites and flag the offending videos. But doesn’t YouTube have an obligation to make sure these ads are swept from its site before they can do harm? YouTube today doesn’t have a policy against attack ads late in the campaign, but it should.

“Doesn’t YouTube have an obligation to make sure these ads are swept from its site before they can do harm?” YouTube has no such legal obligation: Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes YouTube from legal liability for such a video. If the Globe is referring to an ethical obligation, the answer should also be no. The Globe characterizes the Clinton video as “clever, nasty, and relying on manipulated images.” “Nasty” because it criticizes Hillary? “Manipulated images” because it is not raw, unedited footage of a press conference? As my friend Doug said about the Globe editorial, “Oh, grow up!”

5 thoughts on “Globe Editorial: Censor YouTube”

  1. I agree that YouTube is not liable. It would be unreasonable for YouTube to be required to go through and censor EVERY single video posted on its website. Plus, people use YouTube as a means of expressing themselves. In the US, the freedom of expression in this video, which is a form of political speech, receives the highest degree of protection from the First Amendment (compared to other types of speech).

  2. I was shocked that the Globe writer suggested YouTube should be responsible for censoring videos and removing ones they believe could potentially cause harm . Wouldn’t that be going against the very objective of YouTube: allowing people to express themselves freely and share their ideas with thousands of people for free via the net.

    Before YouTube there really wasn’t an efficient way to reach large numbers of people via audio and video FOR FREE. Prior to YouTube, getting a short video/ advertisement to many people could only be done by paying very large sums of money (more than any one individual would pay) to television networks. This has several implications:
    1. People will see advertisements put out by individuals rather than only those put out by the campaigns
    2. We will get to see what individual citizens have to say about their favorite candidate and/or the opponent
    3. This opens the door to much misrepresentation of candidates, it is much easier for an individual (rather than a campaign) to put out false information about a candidate, campaigns know that they can’t put out false information about a candidate because people find out and then it back fires on the campaign

    There were some really interesting points made in some of the related articles you mentioned:
    In the MTV News article the creator of the YouTube video, Phil de Vellis, said that one of the reasons he made the video was because he wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the election process. Although many of us may not think that his portrayal of Clinton was accurate or fair, de Vellis’ did prove a point with his video, through the use of outlets such as YouTube individual citizens can make a difference, as is evident from the uproar de Vellis’ video caused.
    The San Francisco Chronicle brought up another important point that I hadn’t thought of. They suggested that videos like de Vellis’ could be a way for campaigns to anonymously attack their opponents.
    In another related article I found on the NPR website, titled “YouTube Campaign Videos Get a Critique”, they bring up the point that these videos could cause harm to campaigns when individuals put out videos/advertisements they don’t authorize. An individual, such as de Vellis may think he is helping the Obama campaign by making his video but maybe he really messes things up for them because the Obama campaign didn’t wish to run a campaign in which the opponent is attacked.
    On a positive note, perhaps all the commotion caused by videos such as Vellis’ will create more interest in the election and thus heighten voter participation in the 2008 election.

  3. I agree with vee87 and zebra that YouTube should not be held liable for any commotion caused by videos that simply demonstrate free speech. The argument that these videos could cause harm before a political election is completely irrelevant. The First Amendment is not optional. Regulators cannot choose to enforce the amendment at certain times of the year and condemn it during others.

    The government has no right to censor the media, and I believe that Phil de Vellis, the creator of the video, had every right to create and disseminate it through the Internet. YouTube is currently liable in another case due to improper use of video material with Viacom, but that case is based on copyright infringement. The censor YouTube case is based on the power of online media to sway public opinion. Public officials may not like the power that YouTube has to publish harmful material on political candidates, but people who view YouTube realize that much of the website’s content is not in fact reliable. Therefore, these officials are overreacting to a problem that does not really exist.

    Since YouTube provides a relatively new type of video sharing platform, politicians may feel that they have the ability to impose regulations on its use; however, a substantial amount of the content of YouTube that these politicans are challenging is similar to that of late night television talk shows such as the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Mr. Leno targets politicians in his monologue every week and often exxagerates material to get a laugh out of the audience. This is perfectly okay because Mr. Leno and the producers of the Tonight Show have the right to show any type of media on television, as long as it is not too egregious.

    YouTube thus should also be allowed to show funny, offensive material on its website before elections because this falls under free speech. Like late night talk shows, rational people do not take YouTube seriously, so even if it did publish hurtful material, no one would be expected to take it seriously.

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