Censorship lays at the helm of the latest controversy to sweep across Google's massive video sharing platform Youtube. At present, a number of prominent Youtubers, including Boogie2988, and even Rich from "ReviewTechUSA" are speaking out against what they claim is rampant censorship in regards to Google's move to de-monetize videos surrounding controversial or sensitive subjects.
Well known Youtube star Philip DeFranco stated Youtube is systematically removing monetization from his videos because they say his videos use excessively strong language or graphic material. Taking a closer look at Youtube's terms of service regarding the production of what they state is "Advertiser Friendly Content", includes the statements, the use of quote, "Inappropriate language, including harassment, profanity and vulgar language", and "Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown."
For Youtuber's like DeFranco who often refers to his subscribers jokingly as "Beautiful Bastards", this could be a serious problem.
The cause for concern here is, with Google's latest move to censor the videos it allows to be monetized, this pits a fine line between freedom of speech & expression, and the implementation of guidelines that would be deemed as being socially acceptable, while holding abusers accountable for their actions.
At this point, you could potentially be censored for producing videos surrounding anything religious, political, that features any type of profanity, or anything Google deems to be unacceptable for that matter. Keep in mind, the censorship we mention here is only in regards to monetization of Youtube videos solely. As we've seen with the example of DeFranco, just simple profanity is enough to lose monetization. One video of his that was censored discussed the controversy over the social justice warrior movement, just to note how significant the issue of Youtube censorship has become.
Even Youtube's massive gaming community is at risk of losing monetization for game play commentaries if they feature anything graphic, and many games do. To think a simple game review of Resident Evil or Rise of The Tomb Raider could be censored is beyond annoying.
Freedom of Speech vs. Accountability:
Many are arguing Google's current stance towards censoring content is simply their way of trying to craft a family friendly platform that advertisers will love, but does it go too far? The harassment part of their guidelines makes obvious sense, and I would agree people should have a right to be treated with dignity and respect on social media. To put it plainly, there must be rules of engagement, even on social media, and without them you open the doors to abuse by those preaching hatred toward certain groups, and harassment that can ruin the experience for those who make use of platforms like Youtube.
In Google's case, they're stuck with the unfortunate task of having to determine what is socially acceptable and what is not across their various products and services, and making these types of decisions is never a walk in the park either; especially when you consider the lengthy legal aspects involved, along with the fact you're implementing guidelines that potentially affect billions of people!
I've long been tasked with making the final decision upon all drafted and finalized guidelines across the communities I manage on Google+. I too am pitted between attempting to protect freedom of speech & expression, while also implementing guidelines that protect our hundreds of thousands of community members from harassment and abuse by others. While this is a tough line to draw, I can honestly say from my years of experience in penning guidelines (ironically for Google's own social platform Google+), I cannot agree with Google's actions towards its content creators on Youtube at all.
Where both I and the media organization I run draw the line, is between harassment and constructive criticism. Across all our communities we note the same core principals regarding what we deem to be socially acceptable, including quote, "There's constructive criticism, then there's downright trash talking, and there's a huge difference! Everyone is welcome to express themselves freely here, but purposely bad mouthing others for any reason will not be tolerated."
That's practically a mission statement for us today. We want people to be treated respectfully, while also allowing them to speak their minds, and this is where things get tricky, even for us. The question is, how do you determine the difference between strong criticisms and harassment, or what would be deemed socially acceptable as a whole? How do you determine what's considered to be fair or unfair? Better yet, how do you determine who makes such critical decisions to begin with? A lot of tough questions to be answered here, and they're questions I've been asking myself for years.
Despite the fact I implement and enforce the guidelines for many users of Google+, the guidelines I penned and those created by Google differ wildly in the sense that Google wants to silence anything that may be deemed controversial when it comes to Youtube, while our approach to moderation is to remain neutral when dealing with those who hold differences in opinion.
While Google forcefully puts restrictions on its content creators, we prefer to exercise at least some level of tolerance. My assumption is that none of us are perfect, and its best to implement guidelines that exhibit some level of tolerance to the world's differing beliefs and ideas.
When we implement and enforce our guidelines, we strongly take into account the intent of users themselves, and we strongly urge Google to consider taking this approach as well. Is the user's intent to poke fun at a subject, joke about something, or is it to harass someone, or spread hatred and violence? The bottom line for us all boils down to intent.
With Google it appears intent itself is irrelevant is the problem. For those Youtubers who feel they're being witch hunted by Google, it's easy to see why. For one, the bulk of content creators on the Youtube platform rely on the advertising revenues that Google delivers in order to make it worth their time to work hard and produce more new content. What Google is essentially telling their content creators is that, we'll silence anyone who states anything we personally disagree with, and we'll do so indirectly by hitting them where it hurts most, their pockets!
If there's one important lesson I learned from my years of guideline implementation and enforcement, it's that the more rules you put in place, the more road blocks you put up for people to effectively and efficiently communicate openly and freely. Unfortunately, unlike us, Google doesn't appear to know when to draw the line.
Now, without a doubt, Youtube has seen more than its fair share of negativity among its user base and its widely differing channels of communication in recent times. At present, many prominent Youtubers spend their days creating videos attacking each other endlessly. In fact, drama as a whole appears to be the platform's #1 for of entertainment today. The entire platform appears to thrive off of drama, where channels constantly berate one another with hateful statements, and people spread rumors and lies to try ruin each other's channels.
If Google feels the urge to crackdown on those who're harassing others, I'm all for it. But, censoring people's personal opinions over sensitive subjects is nonsense.
The fact is, Google itself is not a Democracy, but rather a technology company regulated through the use of totalitarian rule. Whether I want to admit it or not, my media organization affords me the same power, as just like Google, I have the power to have the final say in what is deemed acceptable, and what is not. Furthermore, whether I like it or not, every guideline I implement on Google+ creates some level of censorship, and its because again, I just like Google and stuck trying to determine how to provide a user friendly experience, while at the same time keeping harassment at bay, and implementing rules that would be deemed acceptable by the wider public.
Like many others, I built my media empire on Google's back. I did so because of Google's once open willingness to allow freedom of speech and expression, even if its sensitive subjects we don't all necessarily agree with. I don't agree with everything I see and hear either, but I do agree we should all have the right to share our own opinions, beliefs, and just be who we are, without the threat of being silenced for merely expressing how we feel about something.
Somehow, Google seems to believe that silencing controversial and sensitive subjects will make the world's biggest problems go away. If we want to come to a common ground on the world's most argued subjects, then we must remain open to dialogue.
I also don't believe it's fair for Google to unjustly punish the millions of hard working content creators the company owes its very success to by silencing them through the use of de-monetization, merely because Google doesn't agree with the ideas being portrayed.
All being said, I cannot and will not endorse such heavy handed censorship as Google has put into play. I will also make it clear no such guidelines will ever be enforced on the large swath of Google's social platform Google+ that remains under our control.
Google seriously needs to reconsider its actions. While I agree we need rules of engagement in order to protect the rights of everyone involved, too many rules of engagement destroys the public's ability to communicate openly, along with the freedoms of speech and expression, which are basic human rights we all rightfully deserve.