Saturday, December 01, 2007

YouTube and Human Rights

“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Lord Acton

There is no question that Google has made my life easier, bringing me access to information from around the world that I would not have had otherwise. Unfortunately, there is a disturbing trend, as Google continues to expand its empire.

First, Google touted itself as “we are not evil.” But then there was its pragmatic support of censorship in some settings, abiding by government restrictions. Google justified this by accurately saying that their presence has benefit in the long-term.

Now, Google, who has since bought YouTube, has blocked the videos and account of Wael Abbas, an anti-torture activist who posted a video of policemen torturing a victim. Strictly speaking, YouTube’s action was correct, according to their terms of service, in that their Community Guideline's terms prohibit the posting of videos which depict pornography, illegal acts, graphic violence, or hate speech. Subsequently, however, they have now further isolated Wael Abbas by disabling his Yahoo account.

I understand YouTube’s not wanting to show graphic violence. Yet surely there is an alternative that would protect viewers from blundering onto a disturbing site, but would support important exposures of human rights violations. There could be a warning “Site contains graphic or disturbing material” notice, that allows news reports of violence. Or perhaps there could be a parallel site, such a Reporters Without Borders, or Project Censored. We need to have a readily available, uncensored forum to expose human rights violations, wherever they occur. Google should work for the forces of good, and make itself part of the solution, rather than gagging human rights activists.

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