Say it Ain’t So, Joe…

Senator Joseph Lieberman is no friend of free speech.

He co-sponsored the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which was intended to take the “voluntary” ratings system that video game producers enacted to prevent a federal intervention, and make it federal law, imposing fines and community service on people that sold Mature or Adults Only titles to minors.

In the same way, he was involved with the Parent's Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was a group of political wives – including such strange bedfellows as Tipper Gore and Lynn Cheney – that pressured the music industry in much the same way to develop their own ratings system. Teamed with Sam Brownback, Lieberman was instrumental in getting the label you see atleft put on any record with anything interesting to say. As Frank Zappa said during the Senate hearings that preceded this:

The complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of toilet training program to house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few…Ladies, how dare you?… Bad facts make bad law, and people who write bad laws are in my opinion more dangerous than songwriters who celebrate sexuality. Freedom of speech, freedom of religious thought, and the right to due process for composers, performers and retailers are imperiled if the PMRC and the major labels consummate this nasty bargain.

But Lieberman's campaign against the First Amendment didn't stop with labelling. He also voted for The Communications Decency Act, which originally punished anyone who:

knowingly (A) uses an interactive computer service to send to a specific person or persons under 18 years of age, or (B) uses any interactive computer service to display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards, sexual or excretory activities or organs.

This thing has been shot full of more holes than Bonnie and Clyde since its passage, particularly the term “patently offensive,” which was vague and had no legal definition. Several decisions also struck the notion of “indecent speech” as too broad, and abrogations of parental rights to determine what their children could see.

One safeguard of the Communications Decency Act was Section 230, which exempts online providers that just give a soapbox from whichother peopleshout. It is this provision which is now under attack by Senator Lieberman.

Yesterday, the erstwhile bookburner set his sights on YouTube, the best thing to happen to politics and information since the printing press. He sent a letter to them, saying:

Dear Dr. Schmidt:

YouTube is being used to share videos produced by al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups. The purpose of this letter is to request that Google implement its own policy against this offensive material, remove these videos from YouTube, and prevent them from reappearing.

Today, Islamist terrorist organizations rely extensively on the Internet to attract supporters and advance their cause. The framework for much of this Internet campaign is described in a bipartisan staff report released last week by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (“Committee”), which I am privileged to chair, titled Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat. The report explains, in part, how al-Qaeda created and manages a multi-tiered online media operation that produces content intended to enlist followers in countries all over the world, including the United States. Central to this media campaign is the branding of content with an icon or logo to guarantee authenticity that the content was produced by al-Qaeda or allied organizations like al-Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al-Islam (a.k.a Ansar al-Sunnah) or al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb. All of these groups have been designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) by the Department of State.

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.

In other words, Islamist terrorist organizations use YouTube to disseminate their propaganda, enlist followers, and provide weapons training activities that are all essential to terrorist activity. According to testimony received by our Committee, the online content produced by al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations can play a significant role in the process of radicalization, the end point of which is the planning and execution of a terrorist attack. YouTube also, unwittingly, permits Islamist terrorist groups to maintain an active, pervasive, and amplified voice, despite military setbacks or successful operations by the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

YouTube posts “community guidelines” for users to follow, but it does not appear that the company is enforcing these guidelines to the extent they would apply to this content. For example, the community guidelines state that “[g]raphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.” Many of the videos produced by one of the production arms of al-Qaeda show attacks on U.S. forces in which American soldiers are injured and, in some cases, killed. Nevertheless, those videos remain available for viewing on YouTube. At the same time, the guidelines do not prohibit the posting of content that can be readily identified as produced by al-Qaeda or another FTO.

I ask you, therefore, to immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations from YouTube. This should be a straightforward task since so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance. In addition, please explain what changes Google plans to make to the YouTube community guidelines to address violent extremist material and how Google plans to enforce those guidelines to prevent the content from reappearing.

Protecting our citizens from terrorist attacks is a top priority for our government. The private sector can help us do that. By taking action to curtail the use of YouTube to disseminate the goals and methods of those who wish to kill innocent civilians, Google will make a singularly important contribution to this important national effort.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this critical matter and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-CT)
Chairman, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Oh, how nice. Fahrenheit 451 with a happy face – fascism with manners. The problem for Lieberman here is that he can ask nicely, but Section 230 prevents him from taking action against YouTube:

“Under section 230, YouTube has no obligation to review this kind of content,” said John Morris, an attorney for the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group that has received funding from Google. “The policy judgment that underlies Section 230 is that speech on the Internet–and indeed commerce and everything else on the Internet–would be radically harmed if sites had the responsibility to review every single bit of posting and content that their users put up there.”

So, YouTube has no responsibility to do anything that Lieberman suggests, but will they fold like the music, movie, and video game industries have in the past – “voluntarily” do what the government asks to prevent it being mandatory? It seems not. YouTube's reply:

Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) contacted us to voice his concerns about seeing videos from several Islamic terrorist organizations on YouTube. We appreciated our dialogue with Senator Lieberman and his staff and wanted to explain to the YouTube community how we responded to his concerns.

First, some background: hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. Because it is not possible to pre-screen this much content, we have developed an innovative and reliable community policing system that involves our users in helping us enforce YouTube's standards. Millions of users report potential violations of our Community Guidelines by selecting the “Flag” link while watching videos.

Senator Lieberman's staff identified numerous videos that they believed violated YouTube's Community Guidelines. In response to his concerns, we examined and ended up removing a number of videos from the site, primarily because they depicted gratuitous violence, advocated violence, or used hate speech. Most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines.

Senator Lieberman stated his belief, in aletter sent today, that all videos mentioning or featuring these groups should be removed from YouTube — even legal nonviolent or non-hate speech videos. 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.

We appreciate Senator Lieberman alerting us to videos that violated our policies — and encourage our users to continue to do the same through the flagging tool. And while we disagree with him about the details of our policies, we respect his views and thank him for giving us the chance to respond to his concerns.

Way to go, guys. The internet is the last bastion of freedom in a world that is poison to liberty – lets do everything we can to keep it that way.


Latest posts by RS Davis (see all)

Leave a Reply