Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The price of free speech

My latest reply to Cerebrator's comments to my previous post was getting so long I decided to elevate it to a new post:

previous records of copyright infringement

If YouTube shut down every account that had repeated copyright violations there'd be no content left.

Misrepresenting facts, is simply a defamatory move

Really? Who exactly was being defamed? (For that matter, what facts were being misrepresented? Does the Quran not say the things that Gusburne says it does?)

And the TOU I quoted above was clear about that.

Indeed. The part about misrepresenting facts is completely separate from the part about defamatory material. Furthermore, they don't say that you must not misrepresent facts. (Again, if that were the case and were uniformly enforced there would be no content left.) They say that you must not "publish falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage YouTube or any third party."

So which is it? Is Gisburne being suspended for copyright violation? (And if so, why aren't all the other copyright violators being suspended right along with him?) Or is it because of defamation (in which case, who exactly has he defamed)? Or is it because of "falsehoods or misrepresentations that could damage YouTube or any third party" (in which case how exactly could YouTube or a third party be damaged)?

The fact of the matter is that Gisburne was suspended not because what he published was defamatory or because it misrepresented facts, but because it was offensive (and particularly because it was offensive to muslims some of whom are notorious for using offense as an excuse for engaging in uncivilized behavior). For further evidence, note that Gisburne's video describing his account deletion has also been removed for alleged terms-of-use violations. It had no background music and no offensive quotes, so what is the excuse this time? This is capricious censorship pure and simple.

The problem with censoring speech for being offensive is that free speech, indeed all freedom, means nothing if not the freedom to say (and do) things that offend people. The "freedom" to say (and do) only those things that offend no one is not freedom at all. I am getting sick and tired of all this pandering to people's frail sensitivities. In a free country, the proper response to people who complain about being offended is to say, "Tough. That is the price of freedom. Deal with it."

As long as I'm on the topic let me say a few words about the elephant in the living room: Gisburne is not being silenced merely because his video is offensive. YouTube is chock-a-block with offensive videos (and that is a good thing). No, Gisburne is being silenced because his video is offensive to Muslims and the folks at YouTube are afraid of offending Muslims. And this fear is not without foundation. Some Muslims (a minority to be sure, but enough to matter) respond to being offended by engaging in various forms of uncivilized behavior. They riot in the streets. They fly airplanes into buildings. They kidnap people and chop their heads off. And Muslims engage in these behaviors on a scale that dwarfs any other identifiable group. Christians may bomb the odd abortion clinic, but they haven't engaged in the kind of wholesale slaughter that Muslims regularly undulge in nowadays for a long, long time. The Scientologist engage in all manner of unsavory practices against those they consider "fair game", but they have not to my knowledge ever actually killed someone. And the idea of a Buddhist terrorist is so absurd it could be the basis of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Silencing people for saying offensive things is wrong even if they are so offensive as to move some people to violence. It is wrong because it sacrifices freedom for the illusion of security. Silencing critics of Islam doesn't quell violence, it rewards violence and thus encourages more violence.

Do my words offend you? Tough. That is the price of freedom. Deal with it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Protest YouTube suppression of free speech

Reddit today led me to this video:

This video is by a fellow named Nick Gisburne. His account was deleted for posting another video that was nothing but a slide show of quotations from the Quran. (That video has since been reposted by at least a dozen other people so it's easy to find.)

This really bothers me for four reasons. First, to deem quotations from a holy text to be "inappropriate content" is outrageous on its face. Second, Gisburne was given no warning. Third, YouTube didn't just delete the video in question, they deleted Gisburne's entire account. And fourth, this makes a mockery of Google's "don't be evil" slogan. There can be no possible reason for this action other than caving to intimidation, and sanctimonious cowardice in the face of oppression is a particularly pernicious breed of evil.

If you share my outrage I urge you to contact YouTube and let them know how you feel.