You will recall that Dennis Prager, the conservative commentator who also runs a YouTube channel to inform his viewers of his perspective on a variety of topics, recently sued YouTube. The meat of Prager’s claims is that YouTube is censoring some of his videos purely because he is a conservative — with the clear implication being that YouTube is a liberal bastion of conservative-hating video hosting. Just to be clear, there is no real evidence for that. What there is evidence for is that YouTube is trying very hard to sort through its hilariously enormous trove of video content for objectionable material, and that it often does this quite badly. None of that amounts to, as Prager claims, a liberal conspiracy against some conservative guy.
While Prager is seeking a preliminary injunction against YouTube to keep it from administering its own site as it sees fit, YouTube is asking for the case to be dismissed outright. There are two claims at issue: first, that YouTube classifying some of his videos in its “restricted mode” amounts to YouTube censoring him and, second, that YouTube is doing this “censoring” for purely partisan political reasons. If you find yourself sympathetic to those claims, perhaps it’s because you have heard them repeated often elsewhere, over and over again (or because you’ve seen Prager sending out fundraising notices making exactly these claims), then you really should read the declaration from Alice Wu, part of the Trust and Safety management team at YouTube, filed in the case last week. Wu directly takes on both of Prager’s claims and dismantles them completely to the point that it’s almost embarrassing for Prager.
We’ll start with the claim that YouTube classifying some Prager videos for its restricted mode being a form of censorship. She notes first that the Prager’s videos that were flagged for restricted mode were done so purely for its content and amounted to something like a “teen rating.”
The appropriateness of the Teen ratings assigned to the PragerU videos listed above is clear from the videos themselves. To give a few specific examples: In a PragerU video entitled “Born to Hate Jews” the narrator discusses how he used to think Jews in Israel were engaged in genocide and violence against Muslims. https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=xCQEmeGfFmY. Another video entitled “Why isn’t Communism as hated as Nazism?” describes mass murders and other atrocities in Communist countries. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?time_continue=1&v=nUGkKKAogDs. Another video, entitled “Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0mzqL50I-w, includes an animated depiction of a nearly naked man lunging at a group of women and discusses college rape culture and the level of consent that should be required to engage in sexual activity. A video titled “Are the Police Racist?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQCQFH5wOJo&t=213s, discusses whether law enforcement engages in systemic racial discrimination and includes animations of police officers and black men pointing guns at people. YouTube concluded that these and some other similar PragerU videos, which deal with sexual situations, mature subject matter, and violent imagery, do not meet the Restricted Mode guidelines, which are designed to meet the needs of users that have chosen a more limited YouTube viewing experience free from potentially mature content. Based on that, YouTube assigned those videos a “Teen” or higher rating, which keeps them available to anyone using YouTube’s general service, but not available to users who have chosen to activate Restricted Mode (unless and until those users turn off Restricted Mode).
That last parenthetical is exceptionally important here, because it hints at how absurd Prager’s claim of censorship is. Restricted Mode is opt-in by the user. Completely. A person who enables Restricted Mode on YouTube is asking YouTube to classify videos for content in the exact way that it does. Prager’s claim of censorship, or a plea for the right to speak, is actually a demand that individual users listen. No such right exists, of course. Keep in mind that all of Prager’s videos appear in searches by anyone that does not have Restricted Mode turned on.
Next: less than 12% of Prager’s videos have been flagged for Restricted Mode.
In other words, if the Elders of YouTube really are engaged in an anti-conservative conspiracy to censor Dennis Prager, they are doing an exceptionally poor job of it. Even more damning, the declaration includes a list of the percentages of videos put in “Restricted Mode” for some other popular YouTube channels. This includes videos from The Young Turks, Stephen Colbert, The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Vox.com, Democracy Now, Huffington Post and more. I try to stay away from actively classifying content with monikers as meaningless in modern times as “conservative” or “liberal” (if they don’t describe themselves as such), but I’m fairly certain most of those folks don’t line up with Prager’s ideology. And, yet, they were given the same treatment as PragerU. In fact, many of them have a significantly higher percentage of videos in restricted mode. Last Week Tonight has had nearly half of its videos flagged for Restricted Mode compared with Prager’s 12%. The Young Turks describes itself as “the leading news and politics show for young, progressive viewers” and it had nearly 71% of its videos put in restricted mode compared to PragerU’s 12%.
Alas, I have yet to hear about the vast right wing conspiracy being carried out by YouTube against the left.
So, what’s the deal here? Well, though we don’t get into partisan politics here generally, we certainly are in the business of truth telling when it comes to things that happen on the internet. So here’s a bit of truth: it is apparently fashionable in some circles to whine about censorship and free speech whenever their demand for open ears and access to other people’s platforms are not handed over. But just because one particular platform doesn’t think your content is appropriate for all audiences, it is not censorship. And, frankly, it appears that many of the people that are providing these platforms, along with those who use them, are supremely tired of this nonsense. There is no censorship. There is no conspiracy. There are just the same rules that apply to everyone. Sometimes they’re applied poorly, but not because of partisan bias.
It’s time for Prager to either stop whining and continue to enjoy the platform in YouTube that is not censoring him for being conservative, or he can go create his own video streaming platform if he thinks he can do it better.
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