OPINION

YouTube to Lieberman: Censor This

I remember being at the 2000 Democratic National Convention and watching Joe Lieberman give his speech accepting the nomination as Al Gore’s running mate. Contrasted with the opposing lines of bandana-faced protesters and riot-geared officers, his speech left me hopeful and uplifted. I recall I felt a sense of pride and kinship, as if I were witnessing history in the making.

I’ve got a whole different view of Joe Lieberman these days.

The Connecticut independent — who left the Democratic party over its opposition to the Iraq war — is now advocating censorship. On Monday, Lieberman, as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, issued a letter to Google Chairman Eric Schmidt asking Google’s YouTube division to remove videos posted by certain groups, such as al-Qaida.

Are You Serious?

Google replied, more politely than I might have, and basically told Lieberman where to stick it.

I’m actually surprised that Google pushed back on this one. Let’s not forget that when the movie studios got tired of seeing their content on YouTube without seeing the accompanying dollars going into their wallets (for a product they’ve already sold a million times over), Google created a technology to recognize pirated video and remove it without anyone flagging it first.

Now, Lieberman wants YouTube to use the same technology to pre-emptively censor videos from certain organizations — whether they violate its terms of use or not.

Violence and Propaganda

His argument is that some — some — of the videos posted by al-Qaida or al-Qaida in Iraq might show violence against U.S. troops or contain anti-U.S. propaganda.

“Searches on YouTube return dozens of videos branded with an icon or logo identifying the videos as the work of one of these Islamist terrorist organizations. A great majority of these videos document horrific attacks on American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan. Others provide weapons training, speeches by al-Qaeda leadership, and general material intended to radicalize potential recruits,” Lieberman writes.

I’ve got a couple of responses to that. First, just as there may be videos of American soldiers being attacked on YouTube, there are plenty showing U.S. helicopters firing on Iraqi insurgents or Israeli missiles falling on Beirut. The knife cuts both ways, Joe.

And second, why do you have to insult the intelligence of the American people and assume that we wouldn’t recognize anti-American propaganda? The people who are going to be receptive to that message are going to find it anyway. Besides that, allowing us to view the propaganda and decide for ourselves that it’s a load of crap is a lot more effective than preventing us from seeing it in the first place, don’t you think?

The Case for Openness

YouTube put out a statement in response to Lieberman’s request:

“While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds. Of course, users are always free to express their disagreement with a particular video on the site, by leaving comments or their own response video. That debate is healthy.”

Let me highlight a portion of that statement: “we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds.

A New Joe

See, this is where Joe loses me. He wants me to see just the side he agrees with, then make up my mind.

If I’m only seeing the officially approved story line, and if I know that the information that’s being presented to me is censored, why should I trust what I’m seeing or reading? It has lost its credibility.

Lieberman purports to be a great defender of democracy. Sorry, Joe, you can’t have it both ways. Either you’re in favor of democracy or you’re in favor of censorship. Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.

One thing I’ve made up my mind about: I’m no longer a fan of Joe Lieberman.

1 Comment

  • I think that the people who should be insulted is the people reading your article. Its outrageous that you justify the killing of our troops this way, and the propaganda.

    Joe Lieberman is only asking for youtube to enforce its own policy’s, not for censorship.

    If you could look beyond your own political blindness and see whats right then maybe this country wouldn’t be so divided and our troops wouldn’t always be the first ones attacked by the likes of people like you.

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