October 16, 2006
YouTube, Google, and the Liberal Bias VirusBy Noel Sheppard and Marc Sheppard
Five months ago, the Internet's top search engine Google was accused of banning conservative websites from its news crawl. Last week, the e—behemoth offered to purchase YouTube, the preeminent provider of videos over the Web that has recently been implicated in censorship of its own. With their pending merger, serious questions arise about the future of the most powerful telecommunications medium on the landscape, and who if anyone is trying to control its content.
As reported by American Thinker on May 22, Internet search king Google eliminated a number of conservative e—zines and blogs from its news crawl earlier this year. In all of the cases cited, the alleged offense was the dissemination of 'hate speech.'
After closer examination, the tie between all the banished websites was the publishing of articles about radical Islam and its relation to international terrorism. Yet, sites that actually were more specifically involved in such activities — like Hezb'allah's propaganda arm in Lebanon, al Manar — were unaffected by Google's 'hate speech' policies, and continue to be a part of its news crawl.
The Liberal Bias Virus: Coming Soon to a Computer Near You
Now, five months later, the web's leading video—sharing portal YouTube has been implicated for demonstrating a similar hypocrisy in its business practices. In the past several weeks, some leading conservative websites have had videos pulled and their accounts closed. As Robert Cox of the Washington Examiner reported on October 12,
What was the content of the offending video? You guessed it...radical Islam. As Michelle Malkin posted at her website on October 4,
Yet, much like the seeming double—standard employed by Google, the folks at YouTube are only offended by those speaking out against radical Islamic terrorism, not those supporting it. As reported by the Honolulu Star—Bulletin on September 13,
However, YouTube doesn't seem to be exclusively disturbed by anti—terrorist messages. NewsBusters reported on October 10 that a video posted by conservative film producer David Zucker poking fun at what the Clinton administration did to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons in the '90s was censored by the web—video portal.
And, on October 12, the conservative Gateway Pundit had a video of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D—Nevada) hanging up on an AP reporter deleted by YouTube.
I Love a Charade
This certainly has the ring of selective policy enforcement similar to Google's. But just what are YouTube's policies?
As previously noted, e—mail messages demanding explanations beyond the words 'inappropriate content' have fallen on blind eyes. Truth be told, Online Service Providers (SPs) which offer their wares free of charge to the end—user invariably adopt a 'you're on your own' attitude when it comes time for support. Users with questions or problems are encouraged to seek answers and solutions within the site's on—line help system.
While this may appear similar to the ersatz 'Not Responsible for Personal Property' signs often used to dissuade litigation, the law is, essentially, on their side. Section 230 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes wording which holds the donor, not the outlet, accountable for uploaded content.
That's quite an eyeful. Not surprisingly, copyright issues rate top—of—list mention. After all, YouTube's very business model is based upon a premise which tests the limits of proprietary rights each and every day.
Sure, members are encouraged to 'use [their] skills and imagination to create something completely original.' But, while a page entitled 'Copyright Tips' offers a rather comprehensive collection of 'guiding principals' to the concept, it also introduces a potential work—around for submitting non—original material.
One Man's Copyright Infringement is Another Man's Poetic License
The 'fair use' principle of copyright law is based on the belief that the public is entitled to freely use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism. The citations used in this article, for example, are protected as fair use. However, the concept's application to the reproduction of video content is far less cut and dry, and YouTube is all too aware of the trial balloons it has set aloft.
Indeed, the sheer ubiquity of such obvious violations as blatantly bootlegged concert footage, digitally reproduced television segments, and music videos bespeaks a tacit approval of marginal infringement from the service provider.
Nonetheless, YouTube must honor the "notice and take down" provisions of the DMCA. Their policy states that whenever they receive notifications of copyright infringement pursuant to the DMCA they will immediately remove the video. But the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulder of the complainant. As explained by communications attorney Elizabeth A. McNamara:
Needless to say, these protections exist to minimize the number of videos which the SP is forced to ban. The SP is, after all, in the business of delivering video content, not impeding it.
A Ruse By Any Other Name
Amazingly, all of the undesirable materials not related to copyright are grouped into the broad category of 'Inappropriate Content.' Unlike copyright issues, which are challenged by individuals claiming harm, those of appropriateness are policed by YouTube's 'community.' Any member can issue a complaint about any video by simply flagging it as inappropriate. Neither specifics nor explanations are required — simply 'inappropriate.'
Surely, the provider must offer their deputized thought police some guidelines. As stated on their 'Copyright and Inappropriate Content' page:
As such, the potential for abuse is mind—boggling. More frightening still is the apparent assumption inherent in such a policy that a concerted effort by networked ideologues can actually determine the political complexion of the videos available. There has been much talk about how these 'complaints' are received by the decision makers, and what actions may be taken in response. On October 8th, the company posted this explanation of how 'flagging' works:
Of course, given the ambiguity of the company's provisos, the leanings of that appraising 'someone at YouTube' might manage to sneak into such a subjective call. Just who is the final arbiter of what does or does not appear on this increasingly vital site, and what are his or her political predilections?
Money Can Buy Me Doves
Add it all up, and with its pending buyout of YouTube as announced on October 9, Google, with its billions of dollars worth of market cap ($130 billion as of October 13!), now has the money and the vehicle to impact public opinion like no other e—company. This is crucial, for the Internet has become a significantly more important political resource in recent years.
As reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
Such an increase in the political power of the Internet makes this new alliance between Google and YouTube certainly worrisome for conservatives. After all, there is ample evidence that Google's employees lean strongly to the left. According to a February 2005 USA Today article on the subject:
The article stated that of the over $200,000 Google employees gave to federal candidates in 2004, '98% went to Democrats, the biggest share among top tech donors.' And, with a largely successful public stock offering making 'scores of millionaires among [Google's] 3,000 workers,'
Potentially more telling, a May 15 'Washington Prowler' piece at The American Spectator disclosed a link between Google and the ultra—left wing MoveOn.org:
Beyond this, Google appears intimately tied to former vice president and potential 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. It is no secret that Gore is a senior advisor to Google, a position that garnered him a sizable number of shares according to Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich. On May 19's The Big Story, Estrich discussed with host John Gibson Gore's connection with Google, and how the wealth generated from the shares he owns in the Internet behemoth could give him enough money to finance his own presidential campaign.
This relationship goes further. According to a recent Wired magazine article about Gore, he is extremely close to Google's CEO Eric Schmidt who 'supported Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.' Moreover, in April 2005, Google partnered with Gore's cable channel, Current.
Back to the Future
The question remains: How seriously should current and future Internet users look upon this merger as a potential propaganda tool for the left? After all, once upon a time, there was a party and ideology that all but owned the means of information delivery to the American public. Along came the evil talk radio and the big—bad Internet, which spawned sites such as The Drudge Report. Almost overnight, liberal rubbish became subject to verification and dispute, and this seemingly insurmountable political advantage was almost instantly neutered.
Does the emergence of liberal—leaning Google, and its aggressive foray into video hosting and delivery represent the next media shift the left have so longed for? In reality, it's likely too soon to tell.
Regardless of its powerful position, Google is not the only search engine available to Internet denizens, and YouTube is not the only video portal. Yet, there's strength in numbers, and theirs combined represents a formidable weapon in the increasingly important information wars.
Wireless broadband networks continue to build out in both coverage area and bandwidth at breakneck speeds. New and exciting integrated handheld devices are just beyond the horizon, promising to convey the wonders of the Internet into the lives of virtually every single citizen of voting age. These enhanced wireless gadgets will deliver news, entertainment and social networking in a manner which will make them virtually indispensable. Predictably, many will rely on them as their primary if not sole source of information and opinion.
Of course, data leviathans the likes of Google will strive to maintain delivery dominance as techniques evolve. Consequently, tuned—in political experts surely recognize the proselytism potential of this new paradigm as greater than any other in history. After all, to influence or, perhaps, control the predominant providers of information content is to do so with the minds which absorb such content.
These are the fronts on which the future battles of the information war will be fought. At stake is the level playing field which took decades to achieve. Defeat is not an option as it would inflict the return of liberal media dominance at a time when its consequence would be nothing short of catastrophic.
Noel Sheppard is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. He is also contributing editor for the Media Research Center's NewsBusters.org, and a contributing writer to its Business & Media Institute. Marc Sheppard is a regular contributor to American Thinker. Noel welcomes feedback and so does Marc.