A day before Americans bowed their heads to remember the victims of Sept. 11, YouTube bowed to pressure concerning online terrorist propaganda from Sen. Joe Lieberman and decided it will no longer allow videos that encourage or teach people to hurt other people.
“While it might not seem fair to say you can’t show something because of what viewers theoretically might do in response,” says a new statement on YouTube’s Community Guidelines page, “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.”
“We at YouTube regularly review our policies and update them if we feel we can do an even better job of communicating with our users or if we find that there is content we feel may not be adequately addressed,” YouTube spokesperson Chris Dale told TechNewsWorld. “As our blog post on the updated Community Guidelines made clear, we’re always trying to keep pace by creating policies that reflect innovative new uses of YouTube and the diverse content posted by users every day.”
A post on YouTube’s blog detailing the new guidelines was dated Sept. 10.
No to al-Qaida Training Videos
Earlier this year, Lieberman charged that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups were using YouTube to disseminate training videos and propaganda encouraging violence against the U.S. At the time, YouTube said the thousands of videos it received daily made it difficult to monitor content, but that videos with graphic violence were not allowed. However, most of the videos that Lieberman mentioned were allowed to remain on the site, with YouTube citing the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
“YouTube certainly has a right to set its own terms of service,” John Morris, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology told TechNewsWorld. “If it wants to prohibit these videos, most of which are not illegal in any sense, it can do so. But this action and Sen. Lieberman’s protests about this kind of video are not going to do anything to keep these videos off the Internet. They are widely available elsewhere.
“As an effort by Sen. Lieberman to suppress these videos, it will be wildly unsuccessful.”
What Constitutes ‘Inciting Violence?’
Not all inflammatory or dangerous speech is constitutionally protected, and most states have laws prohibiting the incitement of violence, Morris said.
“If I go out on a street corner and yell to passersby that they should go and kill the mayor of my city, that would not be illegal speech. Nobody would look at that speech and think I expected people to go do that,” he said. “If I said those exact same words in a meeting of my gang in my city, and I’m a gang leader and I am saying the exact same words in a meeting that’s being called to discuss what our next action is, then that might actually be illegal.”
While Morris is worried about high-profile lawmakers using powerful bully pulpits to force changes involving First Amendment issues at companies, “if this were the U.S. attorney general saying what Joe Lieberman said, I’d be much more concerned about it.”
He agreed that YouTube is simply evolving its guidelines. YouTube has told other media that those guidelines are not intended for lawyers but for average users and that it will continue to look at the situation on a case-by-case basis.