Most YouTube users have experienced at least one warning that the video they are about to see contains graphic content after clicking on it. This is a clear indication that the Internet censorship process is taking place.
While some videos get published with a graphic content warning, others never make it to the public eye because of its inappropriate matter.
Why Youtube Censorship Occurs
In the ocean of online information, a almost infinite amount of data has to go through strict filters before it gets published. Social media is no exception.
Social media platforms block undesirable or inappropriate content every single day. One of them, which ranks as the second largest search engine with billions of views every day, is YouTube.
YouTube blocks video content for an array of reasons, but generally for those that fall under the category of online censorship.
There are a few general reasons why a certain piece of information never gets through, the first being anti-governmental opinions, security concerns and exposed scandals. In some countries like Burma and Cuba, only pro-government information is allowed. On the other hand, a very small number of citizens has access to the Internet in North Korea and the government there controls all of the websites.
YouTube has to follow each country’s specific regulations and regularly removes material which may incite political unrest. Sometimes governments completely block the use of YouTube out of fear that the videos might spark a rebellion against the government or a religion. The most notable and extreme example is China, where YouTube was banned in 2009.
Censorship can be a clever tool to reach the goal of restricting and defining people’s opinions, and totalitarian regimes are making use of it. While that statement is most certainly true, people often forget that their own country, whether it is democratic or not and whether it supports the freedom of speech or not, controls a substantial load of material.
Censorship in Action
For instance, in May of 2016, the EU, which promotes the freedom of speech and human rights, gave an ultimatum to social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube requiring them to censor all hate speech within 24 hours. But it is not yet clear where to draw the line if a video labeled as comedy gets flagged for racism or homophobia.
The social norms are the second reason for content blocking. That includes hate speech, illegal drug use, criminal activity promotion, violence, pornography and pedophile-related content. YouTube’s Safety, Quality, and User Advocacy Department (The SQUAD) contributed to the making of the first ever set of rules for users in 2007.
The challenge they had with the rules was associated with the criteria for newsworthiness. They agreed that the solution was moderation. But moderation cannot represent the sole gauge for judgment. The SQUAD had to decide what kind of content, even if it contains hate speech or violence, can be of importance to viewers.
Intellectual Property Censorship
The last main type of YouTube censorship concerns intellectual property laws. If you want to upload a video with copyrighted music, the platform’s Content ID System will recognize it and the artists or labels will then decide what to do about the infringement.
Another problem soon emerged from the fact that due to the sheer numbers, YouTube has difficulty managing every single video posted to their website. Therefore, they came up with an idea to enroll users as ‘Heroes’ who will add captions to a video or report content to YouTube in exchange for them to gain points and climb up the the ‘Heroes Community’ ladder.
The higher level will eventually grant them a sneak peek at new products and an opportunity to test new features before their release. Although this program brings more opportunity for those with spare time to improve the website itself, people who make their living off YouTube will find themselves in fear of their videos getting flagged or removed for no obvious reason.
How Does Censorship Affect Vloggers, Entrepreneurs, Musicians and the General Public?
Censorship can either ruin the whole concept of freedom of speech, or it can help in protecting national laws and safety. Vloggers are the first to undergo the moderation policy process and it seems that the Heroes program tends to wreak havoc on their videos.
Furthermore, YouTube may issue a monetization ban, like the one Philip DeFranco got for ‘inappropriate advertising’ after he talked about drug abuse and its bad consequences. Even though the content was not offensive and did not violate the Community Guidelines, it got demonetized.
Once the vloggers hit the 100,000 subscribers mark, they can say that they’ve become an online success and have made a business out of videos. But they are not in the position to reach that goal if their videos get removed instantly for unclear reasons.
The entrepreneurs who have built their brand elsewhere must also be careful with the content they publish on YouTube. Especially with advertisements that may upset the general public and later get flagged or deleted.
Not only vloggers and entrepreneurs have trouble with YouTube’s ambiguous decisions. On one hand, musicians are protected by the Content ID System, but on the other hand, they are tied to YouTube’s music services agreement which protects labels and the platform itself, rather than the artists. Additionally, they have to have adequate lyrics to their songs and videos that do not violate Community Guidelines, or else they get censored or banned.
Recently a controversial YouTube decision that was met with disapproval among the general public was the censorship of Prager University’s educational videos. This conservative organization only had an intention of educating, but 21 of their videos have been set under ‘restricted mode’ as if they contain inappropriate content.
In a way, that is in direct conflict with freedom of speech, but the users themselves must work with the regulations if they want their words or their music to be heard.
Youtube censorship is a type of control over published online content. Not only does it take on a parenting role in protecting children from pornography or violence, but it also plays a major role in influencing and shaping people’s opinions.
While the public dabates whether PragerU’s videos were material that had to be classified as ‘restricted, YouTube executes their censorship rules in silent rooms where their moderation process is evolving every day, yet is still far away from ideal.