Another day, another major publication peddling complete and utter bullshit about big internet platforms. The latest is Dennis Prager, whose Wall Street Journal op-ed, Don’t Let Google Get Away With Censorship (possibly paywalled) is so utterly full of wrong that it should maybe be a canonical example of how to bloviate wrongness. The entire premise is bullshit, with most of it focusing on the made up claim that YouTube is somehow censoring Prager’s videos because of his “conservative” viewpoints. We’ve debunked Prager’s arguments in great detail before, but apparently we need to do so again.
As a quick summary: a very small percentage (less than 12%) of Prager’s videos are put into “restricted” mode. This does not demonetize them. It only means that the very small percentage of people who have opted-in to set up YouTube to not return videos that are inappropriate for children (which is less than 1.5% of YouTube’s users) don’t see that small percentage of YouTube videos in their search results. This includes videos with titles like: “Born to Hate Jews” and “Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?” which “includes an animated depiction of a nearly naked man lunging at a group of women.” You might recognize why people at YouTube thought this might not be appropriate for children. But Prager insists that it’s evidence of an anti-conservative bias.
Also, as we pointed out, many YouTube channels that come from sources that most would consider to be much more “liberal” find a much higher percentage of their videos put into the same restricted mode. This includes Stephen Colbert (13%), The Huffington Post (14%), The History Channel (?!?) (24%), Vox (28%), Sam Seder (36%), Buzzfeed, (40%), Democracy Now (46%), Last Week Tonight (50%), The Daily Show (55%) and The Young Turks at a whopping 71%. To argue that having fewer than 12% of your videos put into this restricted mode is evidence of anti-conservative censorship is pretty ridiculous, but this is Dennis Prager we’re talking about, and he’s up to the task:
But the issue is much more complex. I was asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on this matter for two reasons. One is the size of my website, Prager University, which gets a billion views a year, the majority of which come from viewers under 35. The more important reason is that YouTube, which is owned by Google, has at various times placed about 100 of our videos on its restricted list. That means any home, institution or individual using a filter to block pornography and violence cannot see those videos. Nor can any school or library.
Again, this makes the problem sound much bigger than it really is — and it has nothing to do with anti-conservative bias.
Conservatives who defend Google or merely oppose any government interference argue that Google is a private company, and private companies are free to publish or not publish whatever they want. But Google, YouTube and Facebook choose not to be regarded as “publishers” because publishers are liable for what they publish and can be sued for libel.
This is, again, a total misrepresentation. There is no “choice.” Google, YouTube, and Facebook don’t get to “choose” if they’re regarded as publishers or platforms — the law says that they are not liable as publishers for third party content (for very good reason). Prager is misrepresenting Section 230 like sites have to make some sort of decision about what to be. But that’s simply incorrect.
Congress gave Google and other social media an exemption from such lawsuits in 1996, with the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of that bill provided these companies with immunity against defamation and some other legal claims. The clear intent of Section 230—the bargain Congress made with the tech companies—was to promote free speech while allowing companies to moderate indecent content without being classified as publishers.
Congress gave all internet websites that protection (not “exemption”) from bogus lawsuits, because it recognized that without it, bogus lawsuits (the things that folks like Prager used to be against) would flood the docket, and we’d be much better off if lawsuits were properly targeted at those who violated the laws, rather than the tools and services that they used.
But Google and the others have violated this agreement. They want to operate under a double standard: censoring material that has no indecent content—that is, acting like publishers—while retaining the immunity of nonpublishers. When YouTube puts PragerU’s content on the restricted list, when Twitter bans conservative actor James Woods, they are no longer open forums.
Again, this is literally wrong. Section 230 was designed to encourage sites to create “family friendly” zones — that is exactly why then Rep. Chris Cox wrote it, in response to the awful Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy ruling. In that ruling, Prodigy, which heavily moderated its forums to be “family friendly,” got held liable for content it did not moderate. Cox wanted to prevent that situation from happening, and thus created Section 230. Based on this history, YouTube’s use of restricted mode is literally exactly why Cox passed the law, in order to encourage sites like YouTube to create more “family friendly” areas, so that kids don’t end up seeing violent and sexual content, such as those portrayed in Prager’s videos. There is no “double standard” here. There is no “violation” of the agreement. There is YouTube doing exactly what the law was intended to do, and a whiny Dennis Prager complaining about it and misrepresenting what has happened to his videos (and misrepresenting the law as well).
Richard Hanania, research fellow at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, undertook a study of Twitter political bias and concluded: “My results make it difficult to take claims of political neutrality seriously. Of 22 prominent, politically active individuals who are known to have been suspended since 2005 and who expressed a preference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 21 supported Donald Trump.”
This is wrong. We thoroughly debunked this study earlier in the year. The “list” of Twitter accounts that Prager seems to think showed proof of anti-conservative bias included literal Nazis (the American Nazi Party was one of the accounts), as well as notorious trolls and hoaxers. And, of course, this also comes soon after this very same WSJ published an article it claimed was from a “conservative” ex-Googler who claimed he was fired for “whistleblowing” on anti-conservative bias, but who actually was engaged in trollish support for white supremacists.
Defenders of Google also argue that some left-wing sites have an even greater percentage of their videos on the restricted list. But this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. When left-wing sites are restricted it is because their videos contain expletives or material truly inappropriate for children, not because they are left-wing. PragerU videos do not contain expletives and are very suitable for children. Our videos are restricted only because they are conservative.
This is Prager’s weak attempt to respond to the point that we’ve raised numerous times before (and did above) about all those other, left-leaning, sites finding even more of their videos in restricted mode. But, note that he doesn’t actually respond to that point. He just insists that those other videos were properly put into the restricted mode list, while his videos were not (remember: some of his videos that were restricted, depicted violence and sexual content). And therefore it “must be” because he’s a conservative. This is nonsense, and the WSJ should be ashamed for publishing it.
If the four major U.S. airlines announced they would not allow passengers carrying The Wall Street Journal to travel to some American cities, would any conservatives or libertarians defend the airlines’ right, as private companies, to do so?
Yes? I think many conservatives and libertarians would defend that? Just like they would defend PragerU publishing videos that are full of racist, bigoted nonsense. Because he has a right to spew ignorance. And others have the right to (a) respond to it or (b) not to carry it on their own platforms. But here, YouTube isn’t even doing that. It’s not removing videos. It’s not demonetizing them. It’s merely putting a very small percentage of videos onto a restricted list because it decides that those videos are inappropriate for children.
Also, Prager notably leaves out that the lawsuit that he filed over this whole thing was tossed out as the judge noted that Prager’s argument was a complete non-starter. I guess Prager’s next WSJ article will be about how the courts have an anti-conservative bias as well?
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