Saturday, 7 October 2006

YouTube Pornography and Hypocrisy

There has been a great fuss in the blogosphere lately about Michelle Malkin's censored YouTube video. From Michelle's website:
Back in February, you may remember, I cobbled together a little mini-movie called "First, They Came" inspired by the Mohammed Cartoon riots. It's a simple slideshow highlighting the victims of Islamic violence over the years. We posted it at YouTube a while ago. No problems. Until last week, when I received this e-mail: ...

Suffice it to say that YouTube pulled the video for inappropriate content. (And no, I don't normally read Michelle and I don't know what the original video was like. That isn't really the point, as you will see.)

Now I found YouTube's action very peculiar, because a YouTube employee made it quite clear some time ago that there was no way they could police the content on their site and that they don't even try.
However, an employee of YouTube called Think & Ask following publication of "Fetish Videos Land on Family Entertainment Website YouTube" and for that individual's own protection we agreed not to publish the informant's name or gender. The company has relatively few, but tightly knit employees.

"It [pornography] was bound to happen, but we don't have the [manual] resources to control what people post here," the informant said.

"For our future business model the issue is very sticky. I'm sure upper management won't comment for that reason," the informant said.

It would appear that they have plenty of time for political censorship, but can't be bothered with sifting out porn.

"Rev." Billy Gisher of Those Bastards (The Meanest Weblog on the Web) declared war on YouTube on August 15. He was upset by the fact that about 80% of the videos on YouTube are pornographic, that they are readily viewable by any child surfing the Internet, and that YouTube refuses to do anything about it.

So Gisher started informing the advertisers (including WalMart, the Girl Guides of America, and just about any large corporation you can think of) that their ads were appearing with pornographic content. He had screen captures in hand to prove his point. A good number of advertisers started pulling ads. You can read the whole saga over on their website, although I think it only fair to warn you that it's not family viewing. He includes largish thumbnails of screen captures.

Gisher proposed a simple method to YouTube to restrict access by children, but needless to say, they haven't implemented it. He's now started to put "real reverends" on the case, concluding he just doesn't have enough clout on his own. He cites a New York Times interview with one of the founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley:
Yesterday evening, I took notice of this interview published on September 30, 2006 in the New York Times. Chad Hurley, one of the founders of YouTube, spoke with their reporters and editors to answer some questions, which were excerpted to compile this story, from which I have extracted the following question and response:

Times staff: "But you said a vast majority of your stuff was user-generated and kind of wacky unpredictable stuff. Why would an advertiser want to be next to something where it might be something disgusting?"

Chad Hurley: "Well, I think it's the nature of the Internet. There's not really any safe places on the Internet. And they just want to get in front of audiences.....And I think they're just looking for new opportunities to get in front of an audience, and that's what we're providing for them."

I think that Chad Hurley's comments come as close as you possibly can to stating that he believes most major advertisers care more about getting their message in front of an audience than they do about offending their audience.
(The NYT didn't pursue this line of questioning, perhaps because they themselves advertise on YouTube. No possibility of disinterested journalism here.)

Gisher has been on this story for about two months now, contacting advertisers on a daily basis, reporting their reactions and refusing to give up on the issue. He wants this material to be made inaccessible to children and is doing everything he can to see it happen. Despite his online moniker, there is nothing reverend about him, nor about the group blog he is part of, so opponents are going to have a difficult time characterizing this as coming from some uptight religious prude.

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rev. billy bob gisher ©2005 said...

Thanks for the story. This is all about incompetence, corporate negligence, hypocrisy, and freedom of speech and thank you for getting that. Sadly, it has also become a second, far more important story:

the lack of a free press.

Walrus said...

All of these are very important issues, but I couldn't do them proper justice in a single post. I've been rather perturbed by the lack of interest in the blogosphere by what you were doing, so I figured it was time to add my own small voice. I'll continue to follow this.

valiantmauz said...

Hello Janet -

This is one issue where I'd have to take a "conservative" stand, and say that no child should have unsupervised or unrestricted access to the Internet. Supervision and access is the responsibility of the parent, library or school where the client computer resides, not with the content provider.

There are hundreds of software filters available to parents, blocking features built into every browser, and "family-friendly" internet service providers like AOL that go out of their way to aid parents in policing their children's internet experience. In the case of schools or libraries, the system administrator has full control over blocking objectionable sites, like youtube. He or she also has the means to monitor traffic to determine which sites are visited.

It requires education and effort on the part of the parent or organization to learn how to lock down their computers for children's use - effort and education that, in my view, is entirely their responsibility.

There is absolutely no reason - none - that a child of six should be on the internet without their parent in the room, with an unobstructed view of the monitor. In fact, this oversight should be continued into the child's teen years, which is why I recommend every parent locate the computer in the busiest room of the house, rather than off in the den or the basement.

Internet content is about 80% pornography. That is the entire net, not simply youtube. Every parent should be aware that their child is at most one click away from disturbing or objectionable content.

Unlike television, where there are a limited number of content streams coming into the home, the internet is a veritable ocean of data, and no parent would leave their child unsupervised at the beach, would they? The danger - from the sharks to the undertow - is too great.

The solution that billy bob suggests is to fence off the ocean for all of us, rather than demand the conscientous oversight from parents that is necessary to protect their kids.

Janet said...

In theory, valiantmauz, I agree with you. As far as Internet use in the home and parental responsibility go, you are right. But you're missing several important points.

1. YouTube claims to be family friendly. I doubt if it has a security certificate labelling it as a pornographic site. There is misrepresentation at work.

2. It is deriving advertising revenues from organizations and corporations that do not wish to be associated with pornography and have expressly told YouTube that.

3. Children do not live their entire lives within 10 feet of their parents. Computers with Internet access - often unfiltered in any way - are available in libraries, schools, homes of friends and relatives... Trust me, speaking as a parent who took and takes that responsibility very seriously, there is no way you can monitor all of those sources. The alternative would be to keep them on a permanent leash. Or join the Amish. Asking the parents to be solely and uniquely responsible for this is to impose an impossible burden. And whatever happened to "it takes a village..."

4. Those filtering programs are not very efficient. They generally react to keywords and will block sites that proclaim themselves to be offensive. Many sites don't, including YouTube. And if a keyword isn't there, it won't be blocked. And many inoffensive site that do contain the keyword get blocked, so you often end up turning them off in frustration. Just like spell-checkers, they can't deal with context.

What was with the billy bob crack? It was uncalled for, inaccurate, and well below your normal level of discourse.

valiantmauz said...

Hi again -

Internet discourse-failure strikes again :(

My intention was never to take a crack at billy bob (I was under the impression that that was his handle from his response here), it was intended as a rather flowery response to his suggestion that youtube should secure their adult content with credit card access.

It was in no way hostile on my part. If I came across that way, I apologize.

I am off to procure a pasta machine for Thanksgiving dinner prep - I hope we can continue this conversation later?

Walrus said...

Hmm, looks like I have to apologize too. I didn't notice that he added a bob to his handle. On the main blog it's Rev. Billy Gisher. Sorry about that.

In any event, he's definitely not a reverend, and probably not a southerner.

And by all means, do continue the discussion. I son't mind if it stretches out over several days.


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