Does the Right to Free Speech Extend to YouTube?

It is the very vision upon which Videomaker was founded in 1986, and the mission statement that has served as our mantra through 30+ years of publishing about video production tools, techniques and technology.The idea came from a vision that I had 31 years ago. At that time, video production equipment was rare and expensive. Only a few feature-poor camcorders were available to consumers. Editing was accomplished in a linear tape-to-tape process that resulted in a product of less-than-desirable quality that could only be distributed by copying and sharing physical VHS videotapes.

At that time, just a few broadcast and cable networks controlled everything that anyone ever saw on television. The idea that ordinary people would be able to make and share video with a large audience was more of a dream than a vision. That all changed with the Internet, which has played a huge role in the democratization of television by placing the power of the media into the hands of the masses. The ability to produce high definition content with a cell phone and publish it for a global viewing audience is a profound revolution that has opened the way for the free exchange of ideas — not by a small, elite, group who controls a few broadcast networks, but by anyone, anywhere who has an Internet connection and an idea to share.

The idea that ordinary people would be able to make and share video with a large audience was more of a dream than a vision.

One of the largest distributors of video content is YouTube, now owned by Google. More than 30 million visitors watch almost 5 billion videos on YouTube every day, and more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s a whole lot of content. While there are standards and guidelines in place to filter out content that is deemed offensive, there is a general feeling that you are free to post and share videos there without being censored because of your particular ideology as protected under the First Amendment.

Recently, the conservative media company PragerU, a nonprofit organization that uses short videos to share conservative viewpoints on various topics including politics and social issues, challenged YouTube’s decision to categorize a number of its videos as “inappropriate” content– restricting who can see the videos in question, and demonetizing the material. In a statement, PragerU lawyers claim, "Google/YouTube have represented that their platforms and services are intended to effectuate the exercise of free speech among the public." They continue, "As applied to PragerU, Google/YouTube use their restricted mode filtering not to protect younger or sensitive viewers from 'inappropriate' video content, but as a political gag mechanism to silence PragerU."

One might conclude that PragerU and YouTube simply have opposing ideologies in regards to politics and that, as the lawsuit claims, YouTube has targeted PragerU and is censoring out politically conservative content it does not agree with. However, an article by Joe Mullin posted October 25, 2017 points out that, "Conservatives aren't the only ones who feel that YouTube has censored or demonetized their videos. Earlier this year, a British YouTuber who made videos with a ‘feminist and queer perspective’ complained that her videos were being filtered into a restricted mode and were marked as ‘potentially inappropriate content.’"

Has PragerU been unjustly censored? Does YouTube have a responsibility to uphold the first amendment? What does it mean if they do? Does demonetization constitute censorship? While I am not ‘rooting" for or against either side, I am intrigued by the development. For creators of content, the issue is not an ideological left vs. right matter, but one of where we draw the lines on free speech for people of all viewpoints. This could be a landmark decision that may impact the democratization of video distribution for decades to come.

I do think that, generally speaking, we are moving away from a time of true free speech to one where forums — both liberal and conservative — wish to tune out or, in some cases, silence voices of opposing ideologies. I am more of the mindset that if all voices are given the opportunity to speak, the general population will see each for who they are. The crazy will be exposed as crazy and the wise as wise. I am not inclined to speculate as to which group is which.

Matthew York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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