Was YouTube Right To Censor A Controversial Video?

Censored social media

Censored social media

Getty

Earlier this week Washington, D.C.-based The Heritage Foundation released a video highlighting its ongoing dispute with Google-owned video sharing service YouTube. The conservative think tank alleged that YouTube's removal of a particular video was a form of censorship.

It all came down to one specific sentence said by Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, in a video that was originally posted in June 2017. In that video, Dr. Cretella said, "See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm, you're mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender."

Back in 2017 after the video was posted it received numerous responses, including one from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, which noted that it "strongly rejects the views." However, it was YouTube's response that is now in the spotlight.

The Daily Signal, which published the video, found that it had been removed from YouTube and in its place the social media video service displayed a messaged noting: "This video has been removed for violating YouTube's policy on hate speech."

For its part The Daily Signal, which is the content arm of The Heritage Foundation, has admitted publicly that Dr. Cretella's comments were controversial, and the group has added that it supports the spirit behind YouTube's hate speech policy. However, the conservative group also has said publicly that it believes this topic of such medical treatments should be left open for debate.

Representatives from The Daily Signal had reportedly met with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in September, but so far the two remain at a standstill over the video.

The same video has been available on other social media platforms, including Facebook where it has been viewed more than 70 million times. The video was temporarily removed in July 2018, but after an appeal was restored and it is currently viewable on The Daily Signal's Facebook page.

"As conservatives who believe in free enterprise, the last thing we should be calling for is government regulation or coercion of private companies," said Rob Bluey, vice president of communications and executive editor of The Daily Signal, via a statement. "After working with YouTube in good faith for months to restore the wrongly banned video, we are using the power of our voices instead of the power of the state to call on YouTube to do the right thing. As one of the largest content platforms in the world, YouTube should welcome more discussion rather than eliminating speech at the mob's command."

The Technical Issue

As of the end of 2017, according to report from video software firm Videonitch, there were a total of 1.3 billion YouTube users and 300 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. Trying to manually manage all that content would be impossible, and as a result YouTube must rely on various programs and algorithms to determine what videos could violate community standards such as "hate speech" on its platform.

"With the increase in cyberbullying, cyber-based cult recruiting, and online pedophiles, there is a growing need for computer science to help protect the nation's youth," explained Dr. Tonya Hansel, director of the Doctorate of Social Work at Tulane University.

"Many online companies have risen to the challenge and are employing linguistic and analytic approaches to aid in identifying harmful content," she added.

However, Hansel admitted these automated techniques are far from perfect.

"Yet efforts to reduce the predatory behavior on the internet should be applauded," said Hansel. "Hate speech is a form of emotional abuse and traumatic experience, which preys on the vulnerability of youth from marginalized populations. If linguistic algorithms or company protocol deem content to be potentially harmful, then it should be removed to avoid re-traumatization. There is a growing emphasis in creating trauma-informed communities – this should be expanded to the cyber communities as well."

The Censorship Debate Renewed

The Daily Signal has said it is being censored by YouTube, and has argued the video – which again is available on other social media platforms – could open a larger debate. The question is then whether this is really an issue of censorship or just a company operating as it sees fit?

"Social media companies, like other companies, have the freedom to choose how they want to run their business, as long as they comply with applicable law," said Robert Foehl, executive in residence for the business law and ethics department at the Ohio University Online Master of Business Administration program.

"YouTube and other social media companies maintain content policies that inform their users of what content is acceptable and unacceptable on their platforms," added Foehl. "Potential users of YouTube's social media service have the ability to freely choose whether they will abide by YouTube's content policy when submitting content, or whether they will seek out an alternative platform that is more supportive of their content and expressions. Social media companies are within their rights to 'police' the content submitted by users to ensure compliance with their content policies."

The removal of the video could be seen as a form of 'editorializing' the content on its platform.

"YouTube, like any content provider, is free to print or broadcast what it wants," said James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business.

"It has the right to regulate its content however it wants," added Baiely. "The Washington Post, for instance, publishes what it wants and editorializes upon it. Because YouTube can't control which videos are posted, its editorializing takes the form of removing videos. If you don't like what YouTube leaves or what it dumps, you have the right to not watch it."

Right Of Way

This may also not be an issue of whether there is a line on what can and cannot be said.

"As to whether YouTube was 'right' in an ethical sense is a debate without end," explained Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the Business Master's Degree Program at the University of San Diego School of Business. "As to whether YouTube has the legal 'right' to ban the video, the answer is yes."

Barkacs added that in the private sector, for the most part the line is where the privately owned enterprise chooses to draw it. "When it comes to the topic of freedom of speech, so many people seem unaware that First Amendment protections pertain only to the government – not the private sector."

For YouTube this may also be primarily a business issue, not an ethical one.

"When making a wide range of business decisions, companies routinely consider the impacts of their decisions on the company's stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, and society," said Foehl. "This holds true for social media companies when creating content policies and making content decisions, as well."

The final question is then whether this move by YouTube could silence the debate on other issues. However, given the volume of content that is uploaded with such alarming speed it is unlikely to happen.

"Social media is a dense jungle with plethora of absurd, disgusting and defamatory content," suggested Barkacs.

"Moreover, who credibly can think social media is a reliable platform for 'reasonable debate," he pondered? "Social media is loaded with information pollution – look at what the Russians did during the 2016 election, and what they are continuing to do. When private sector companies ban content, the objections tend to be ideologically driven and those offended by any such ban focus on restricted access to, say, a certain well-known outlet, but the banned material on those outlets can typically be found a click away on other outlets."

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Earlier this week Washington, D.C.-based The Heritage Foundation released a video highlighting its ongoing dispute with Google-owned video sharing service YouTube. The conservative think tank alleged that YouTube's removal of a particular video was a form of censorship.

It all came down to one specific sentence said by Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, in a video that was originally posted in June 2017. In that video, Dr. Cretella said, "See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm, you're mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender."

Back in 2017 after the video was posted it received numerous responses, including one from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, which noted that it "strongly rejects the views." However, it was YouTube's response that is now in the spotlight.

The Daily Signal, which published the video, found that it had been removed from YouTube and in its place the social media video service displayed a messaged noting: "This video has been removed for violating YouTube's policy on hate speech."

For its part The Daily Signal, which is the content arm of The Heritage Foundation, has admitted publicly that Dr. Cretella's comments were controversial, and the group has added that it supports the spirit behind YouTube's hate speech policy. However, the conservative group also has said publicly that it believes this topic of such medical treatments should be left open for debate.

Representatives from The Daily Signal had reportedly met with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in September, but so far the two remain at a standstill over the video.

The same video has been available on other social media platforms, including Facebook where it has been viewed more than 70 million times. The video was temporarily removed in July 2018, but after an appeal was restored and it is currently viewable on The Daily Signal's Facebook page.

"As conservatives who believe in free enterprise, the last thing we should be calling for is government regulation or coercion of private companies," said Rob Bluey, vice president of communications and executive editor of The Daily Signal, via a statement. "After working with YouTube in good faith for months to restore the wrongly banned video, we are using the power of our voices instead of the power of the state to call on YouTube to do the right thing. As one of the largest content platforms in the world, YouTube should welcome more discussion rather than eliminating speech at the mob's command."

The Technical Issue

As of the end of 2017, according to report from video software firm Videonitch, there were a total of 1.3 billion YouTube users and 300 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. Trying to manually manage all that content would be impossible, and as a result YouTube must rely on various programs and algorithms to determine what videos could violate community standards such as "hate speech" on its platform.

"With the increase in cyberbullying, cyber-based cult recruiting, and online pedophiles, there is a growing need for computer science to help protect the nation's youth," explained Dr. Tonya Hansel, director of the Doctorate of Social Work at Tulane University.

"Many online companies have risen to the challenge and are employing linguistic and analytic approaches to aid in identifying harmful content," she added.

However, Hansel admitted these automated techniques are far from perfect.

"Yet efforts to reduce the predatory behavior on the internet should be applauded," said Hansel. "Hate speech is a form of emotional abuse and traumatic experience, which preys on the vulnerability of youth from marginalized populations. If linguistic algorithms or company protocol deem content to be potentially harmful, then it should be removed to avoid re-traumatization. There is a growing emphasis in creating trauma-informed communities – this should be expanded to the cyber communities as well."

The Censorship Debate Renewed

The Daily Signal has said it is being censored by YouTube, and has argued the video – which again is available on other social media platforms – could open a larger debate. The question is then whether this is really an issue of censorship or just a company operating as it sees fit?

"Social media companies, like other companies, have the freedom to choose how they want to run their business, as long as they comply with applicable law," said Robert Foehl, executive in residence for the business law and ethics department at the Ohio University Online Master of Business Administration program.

"YouTube and other social media companies maintain content policies that inform their users of what content is acceptable and unacceptable on their platforms," added Foehl. "Potential users of YouTube's social media service have the ability to freely choose whether they will abide by YouTube's content policy when submitting content, or whether they will seek out an alternative platform that is more supportive of their content and expressions. Social media companies are within their rights to 'police' the content submitted by users to ensure compliance with their content policies."

The removal of the video could be seen as a form of 'editorializing' the content on its platform.

"YouTube, like any content provider, is free to print or broadcast what it wants," said James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business.

"It has the right to regulate its content however it wants," added Baiely. "The Washington Post, for instance, publishes what it wants and editorializes upon it. Because YouTube can't control which videos are posted, its editorializing takes the form of removing videos. If you don't like what YouTube leaves or what it dumps, you have the right to not watch it."

Right Of Way

This may also not be an issue of whether there is a line on what can and cannot be said.

"As to whether YouTube was 'right' in an ethical sense is a debate without end," explained Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the Business Master's Degree Program at the University of San Diego School of Business. "As to whether YouTube has the legal 'right' to ban the video, the answer is yes."

Barkacs added that in the private sector, for the most part the line is where the privately owned enterprise chooses to draw it. "When it comes to the topic of freedom of speech, so many people seem unaware that First Amendment protections pertain only to the government – not the private sector."

For YouTube this may also be primarily a business issue, not an ethical one.

"When making a wide range of business decisions, companies routinely consider the impacts of their decisions on the company's stakeholders, including investors, customers, employees, and society," said Foehl. "This holds true for social media companies when creating content policies and making content decisions, as well."

The final question is then whether this move by YouTube could silence the debate on other issues. However, given the volume of content that is uploaded with such alarming speed it is unlikely to happen.

"Social media is a dense jungle with plethora of absurd, disgusting and defamatory content," suggested Barkacs.

"Moreover, who credibly can think social media is a reliable platform for 'reasonable debate," he pondered? "Social media is loaded with information pollution – look at what the Russians did during the 2016 election, and what they are continuing to do. When private sector companies ban content, the objections tend to be ideologically driven and those offended by any such ban focus on restricted access to, say, a certain well-known outlet, but the banned material on those outlets can typically be found a click away on other outlets."