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.


cerebrator said...

Hi Ron,

1. YouTube's A Note on Terminated Account

2. YouTube may not have removed the video for the purpose of being offensive, but in any case, I think the video was indeed misrepresenting facts and was thus defamatory to the Muslims since Qur'an is identified with Muslims.

Why do I say it's misrepresenting facts?

The verses quoted from the video were 'snippets' and not entire chapters or argument.

Let me put it in contemporary illustration: A paragraph revolves around a single idea. That single idea may be within a single sentence or two. The rest of the paragraph are explanatory/arguments to support the point.

Remove the arguments for the point and what do we have? We say they are meaningless sentences that carry no significance. We can also use the sentence and take it out of context.

2. No Ron, you have not offended me. Few if any at all, have managed to do that. In any case, I was worried that you might be offended by my 'support' towards YouTube's action. But if you weren't, then cool.

3. Allow me to introduce to you that the concept of freedom is a recent myth by those with power (and I'm not talking about the Govt). You might be interested to know what ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Indians and Chinese think about freedom. If you argue against this though, I would perfectly understand. For indeed, our knowledge are limited.

Ron said...

YouTube's A Note on Terminated Account

Which is clearly bullshit because they terminated his new account as well, which had no copyrighted material on it.

The verses quoted from the video were 'snippets' and not entire chapters or argument.

What difference does that make? Would you censor someone for quoting verses of the Bible out of context? Would you censor me for quoting you out of context? People quote things out of context all the time. That's part of free speech too. Deal with it.

I was worried that you might be offended by my 'support' towards YouTube's action.

I am. So what? I was offended by Gisburne's video too. Did I not just get through ranting about how people have the right to say offensive things?

you have not offended me

Guess I'll have to try harder ;-)

freedom is a recent myth

No doubt, but it's a myth that I happen to subscribe to. And I think the world would be a better place if more people did the same.

cerebrator said...

Ok. I guess we just have different ideas about freedom of speech. So I'll leave the discussion as it is.

But just to raise one more point on Nick's new accounts getting deleted. I think it's a simple case of banning the user. Not the account.

I am not saying I'm supporting this rational of banning the user, coz yeh, it is too harsh. But can it be that this is what YouTube is for?

I now rest my case.


asdf said...

(note: I think I just lost my comment, if this is a double post then please delete one)

I bothered to look up some of the ayats Gisburne had quoted -- and I found that he wasn't quoting, he was paraphrasing (e.g. he swapped pronouns for proper nouns). In the video you linked to with his explanation, he stated that his only addition to the material was the title and music or something like that. My only point is that he was adding his own interpretation.

That said, I think it's obvious that they are trying to figure out how to maximize their popularity. To do that, they have to permit offenses that are "popular", and remove ones that might cause them to loose profits. The question of why they did it is irrelevant though, except to say that they aren't restricted by the 1st amendment, and therefore can indulge in whatever makes them the most money. Google is dealing with the same issues in China. And oftentimes controversy itself is profitable...

Fortunately for Christians, most have figured out ways to deal with culpability in their faith. I would argue that if you could not deal with criticism, that the mental state progresses from vulnerable to defensive to aggressive, which in the later stages draws criticism. Working backwards then, I suspect that aggression betrays an underlying vulnerability. This is all speculation... but illogical though that reasoning may sound, protecting vulnerable people by being gentle might be a good thing. By analogy, I felt that some of the idiosyncrasies that Borat brought out of some of his victims were cruel and therefore inappropriate, not because his victims were entirely innocent, but because they didn't deserve it.

What am I saying? Cold hard logic has it's place, as do lofty ideals. However, since many people don't arrive at any of their cultural or moral or religious beliefs by logic and reasoning, logic can not serve to get those people to change their minds, let alone inflammatory accusations. These people will just conclude that they have been misunderstood or are being targeted, feeding the cycle of vulnerability. On the other hand, if the criticisms are valid, then the people probably already recognize them as such. If you really want to get them to change, then I suspect the best way is to simply live by example.

I'm arguing that a spirit of hooliganism should be discouraged because it benefits nobody.

(let's see how much of this I still believe in the coming years... :-) )

premed411 said...

If we can't bring Nick Gisburne back to YouTube, then lets bring Nick's story, and videos, to the rest of the web!

niv said...

I believe you're right, Ron. In fact, I'm for not removing the white power videos on youtube (which haven't been deleted... yet, at least), just because I believe in freedom of speech.
But there is a limit to this "freedom", I think you'll agree. Do I have the right to say "Ron Garret said Barak is a 'nigger'", which is a lie (I assume)? Think about it.

Ron said...

Do I have the right to say "Ron Garret said Barak is a 'nigger'", which is a lie (I assume)? Think about it.

What's to think about? If it's not true then it's libel.