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5/30/2008
04:46 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Is YouTube A Tool For Terrorist Propaganda?

I think of YouTube as being primarily a place to watch cute cat videos. But Sen. Joe Lieberman condemns the video site for something sinister: Terrorist organizations are using YouTube to post videos inciting Arabs to kill Americans. Lieberman is demanding that YouTube put a stop to the practice.

I think of YouTube as being primarily a place to watch cute cat videos. But Sen. Joe Lieberman condemns the video site for something sinister: Terrorist organizations are using YouTube to post videos inciting Arabs to kill Americans. Lieberman is demanding that YouTube put a stop to the practice.The blog Mashable has a very good report today, by Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins:

This is social media marketing at it's most refined. Call it targeted marketing, call it guerrilla marking, call it what you will, but these videos find the disenfranchised Muslim (predominantly) male youth, appeal to them with shocking videos that show the powerful "freedom fighters" attacking and winning against the "mighty but stupid imperialist oppressors." Once lured in, they check the producer profile for more, and instead are hit with a barrage of videos on how to join up.

If you can't imagine this working for recruiting new terrorists, then you obviously haven't watched the U.S. Army do the same thing by putting out free video games and music videos showing kids how awesome it is to fight our enemies, and then wait at the high schools with recruitment forms.

Hopkins calls YouTube to task for inconsistently enforcing its usage policy: They censored a pro-American video by blogger Michelle Malkin showing victims of terrorist attacks, another video showing clothed women with anti-women music in the background, a video of a breast-feeding mother (which YouTube deemed obscene), a strip-tease video with the genitalia covered (although other videos like it are still on the site). Uncensored videos: A "bumfight" video showing actual homeless people beating each other up for sandwiches, a pornography advertisement which doesn't show any nudity or sex acts, and a Grand Theft Auto IV ad showing a police officer firing into a crowd of civilians. An Egyptian person's video showing local police brutality was initially censored, then uncensored.

I watched the Malkin video, it's available for download on her site. It's certainly disturbing and moving -- but it's designed to be. It's political speech. It's not explicit, I've seen violence far more graphic on prime time network TV. It doesn't issue a call to violence -- as a matter of fact, it doesn't issue any call for action at all. It's simply a condemnation of terrorism. And it makes an important political point. Whether you agree with it or not, it's Constitutionally protected speech and should be permitted on YouTube. But it's not.

On the other hand, this bumfight video is permitted on YouTube and it's just vile. It's been up for 15 months.

Also permitted on YouTube is this terrorist recruitment video:

You don't have to understand the words to understand the message. Like much good political video, the message is clear even with the sound off. It's a recruitment video for terrorist armies fighting against America. It's as slick and well-executed a piece of Internet filmmaking as I've seen. And it's a great piece of Internet marketing too, as Mashable points out -- each video is branded with the name of a terrorist organization, and tagged with appropriate keywords. Separate accounts each contain nine to a dozen videos, about two of them shocking and the rest designed to be informative.

In the tradition of the movies Triumph of the Will and Birth of a Nation, these videos display mastery of a new medium in service of an evil message. And Google is a willing partner in the enterprise.

This is not about dissent. I have a friend who literally took to the streets to protest the Iraq war and went to jail for it. I have enormous respect for him. But freedom of speech does not entitle you to encourage taking up arms against America. That's been true for literally centuries, and the Internet doesn't change that.

Update 5:45 pm EDT: Larry Magid defends Google on MercuryNews.com:

Like Lieberman, I deplore organizations that carry out or promote terrorism. But it would be wrong to ban all speech from such organizations. If anything, we need to hear from them so we can better understand their motives, their tactics and, most important, what draws supporters to their cause.

Banning such speech is not only contrary to our American traditions, but could be counterproductive. By Lieberman's rationale, we would have also banned books like Hitler's "Mein Kampf," Mao's "Little Red Book" and the film "Triumph of the Will."

The best antidote to this type of material is not censorship but exposure, along with the dissemination of contrasting points of view. Still, there are limits, including when videos glorify or advocate violence, hate or other material. Decisions to remove such material should be made based on a careful review of the content, not on who created it.

And Google defends itself.

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