Sen. Joe Lieberman saves us all from al-Qaida on YouTube

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Cyrus Farivar
September 12, 2008 3:04AM (UTC)

In what surely can't be construed as scoring cheap political points on Sept. 11, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., is claiming victory in a press release this morning: "Google Tightens Standards for YouTube Videos in Response to Lieberman's Pressure."

So what's this all about? Well, some months ago Sen. Lieberman decided that it would be worth his time to write to Google (parent company of YouTube) to inform it that these videos surely unduly strengthen al-Qaida and other terrorist entities.

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As he wrote then:

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.

At first, YouTube objected, saying:

Senator Lieberman stated his belief, in a letter 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.

But yesterday, YouTube updated its "Community Guidelines" to include this paragraph:

While it might not seem fair to say you can't show something because of what viewers theoretically might do in response, we draw the line at content that's intended to incite violence or encourage dangerous, illegal activities that have an inherent risk of serious physical harm or death. This means not posting videos on things like instructional bomb making, ninja assassin training, sniper attacks, videos that train terrorists, or tips on illegal street racing. Any depictions like these should be educational or documentary and shouldn't be designed to help or encourage others to imitate them.

First of all, "ninja assassin training"? Seriously? There were ninja videos on YouTube? Oh man, the Ninja is not going to be happy about this one. Second of all, I'm not really sure how the average YouTube user is supposed to distinguish between what is or isn't educational or documentary. I mean, surely there's some value in making these videos public so that we, the people, can denounce or praise them as we see fit, no? Further, I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that a few rogue terrorist videos are making some sort of substantial difference in the behavior of people who watch them to the point that they need to be completely banned outright. This just seems a rather frivolous way to "fight terrorism."

I mean, I get that we don't want al-Qaida getting any more popular, but how is it that we're going to work harder to prevent al-Qaida videos and still allow videos that glorify neo-Nazism? Doesn't neo-Nazism by its very nature "incite violence"? I'm just saying, it gets really hard to do that, especially when, in this country, hate speech is legally protected.

Plus, Daniel Kimmage, the guy who's research Lieberman's argument is based on, isn't convinced that al-Qaida videos are making that much difference to begin with. In an interview with CBC's Search Engine on June 6, 2008, Kimmage said: "I'm not as convinced that [al-Qaida and affiliated groups] are as effective over the Internet as they were," and that their videos may have been "cutting edge for 2002, but by 2008, it feels stale."

But whatever. Thanks to you, Joe, for making YouTube safer for us all.

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Cyrus Farivar

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