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YouTube’s concerning crackdown on hate speech

Alison Macbeth, Opinions Editor

A few weeks ago, my professor lectured on propaganda and rhetoric, specifically analyzing the techniques Adolf Hitler employed as he rose to power. My professor, who has taught this class for several years, pulled up her trusty powerpoint with links to YouTube videos of Hitler’s speeches. However, she soon found out that the videos were blocked. In a recent attempt to crack down on hate speech, YouTube has deleted videos promoting Nazism - and with that historical footage of Hitler. YouTube’s actions have concerning implications. 

On June 5, 2019, YouTube posted on the official blog about the new rules under the heading “Our ongoing work to tackle hate.” Upon first glance, YouTube’s efforts appear applaudable. 

“This work has focused on four pillars: removing violative content, raising up authoritative content, reducing the spread of borderline content and rewarding trusted creators.” YouTube later boasts of partnering with lawyers and civil society to limit the spread of extremist content. 

For years, YouTube has been a platform for people to share silly videos, artists to promote their work and for scholars to seek information. It is good that YouTube is aware of how its services can promulgate hatred as well as misinformation. In fact, since it is a free and the content is based on users uploading videos, YouTube has high risk for misleading videos. 

However, YouTube’s movements to monitor hate speech has concerning implications. First of all, YouTube is defining hate speech. As a for-profit corporation, YouTube is single-handedly deciding what information is allowed and what is not allowed. While they may refer to legal council and civil society as their guidelines, this hardly negates the fact that a private corporation has a large influence on monitoring information, data and knowledge. Political officials and judges that determine what is hate speech in our government are elected or approved of in some sort of democratic manner. With YouTube, money is the principle driver. 

Secondly, with undefined terms for their regulatory actions, YouTube can determine what is and what is not published on the platform. Where will this stop? What if YouTube were to decide that they did not like a certain political view or news clip that someone uploaded. The government cannot technically determine what YouTube has to display since it is a private corporation. In the worst possible scenario, YouTube could become a propaganda machine for other corporations that fund it through advertisements. The freedom of ideas and the space to dissent is vital in a democratic marketplace of ideas. YouTube has operated as an open platform for years and Americans have come to depend on it. Now, it might be time to reconsider where you’ll get your next historical video. 

Thirdly, YouTube’s choice to take down historically valuable videos impacts education. Yes, Hitler’s actions and words are despicable. No one should be watching them to gain inspiration. However, as soon as Hitler is silenced on a public platform like YouTube the less ability the public has to compare Hitler’s words to other totalitarian leaning individuals (maybe Trump?). It is vital for the average person and scholar to have access to videos recounting historical events so that we can learn from the past instead of repeating it.

Ultimately, the answer to this issue is not for YouTube to stop monitoring their platform - itis larger than that. We have reached a point in our evolution of media to ask the question: How much should a private corporation that is relied on by the public as a source of information be monitored by the government? This will be the question in the future years with Facebook (remember Cambridge Analytica) and Twitter. YouTube’s initiative to work against misinformation and hate is good; however, it is essential for YouTube to look at the repercussions and implications of their actions as an open platform where creativity and access to information are supposed to thrive.