Saturday, March 24, 2018

YouTube expands ban on weapons material to include demos; may be to forestall more weakening on CDA230; seems motivated by Parkland and expanding gun debate

YouTube is jumping ahead on future downstream liability problems, and probably also on its relations to advertisers, by announcing it will tighten its ban on some material regarding weapons, especially sales and demonstrations of assembly.  Niraj Chokshi has a detailed story on p. B2 of the New York Times on Friday, March 23.  The Washington Post has a similar story by Allison Chiu.   Bloomberg was even more explicit that the new policy will ban demonstrations on how to build weapons.   It would be common sense to presume this includes other weapons like pressure cooker bombs (as in the Boston Marathon or possibly Austin incidents)
The policies will go into effect in early April.  Here is YouTube’s own TOS text. Note that YouTube bans links to such sites (selling or demonstrating firearms).
YouTube has long attracted criticism for censoring (or taking from advertisers) some content of a sexual nature, for example.  I thought we might see a statement by now from the company regarding FOSTA but it probably believes that its controls in place are already in compliance.

In February 2015, Blogger had announced a policy banning sexually explicit images (and probably embedded videos) on its site. See my February 25, 2015 post.  Due to protests, Blogger withdrew the policy, that had been intended to go into effect in late March 2015.  Yet, during that waiting time, I had removed some embeds that required adult verification (by sign-on to a Google account), for which there were not very many. I have not added any more such embeds since then and have acted as if the policy were in place. 

I am a bit concerned about any policy banning hyperlinks.  I have made a lot of small videos on YouTube (and larger ones on Vimeo) but certainly nothing that violates these policies.  I presume the links policy could be applied to Blogger.  I don’t recall any such hyperlinks over the years, but there is no way to be sure, retrospectively.  There is a real issue with “meta-speech” – journalistic content intended to make the public aware of a particular underreported hazard.  Some persons could interpret such speech, especially from an “amateur” or non-established press sources, as “gratuitous” and intended to incite less intact individuals.  One of my blogs (the “cf” blogs) focuses on unusual threats to public safety, including, for example, EMP weapons, which are not often discusses and, contrary to a lot of impression, do not have to be nuclear.  Popular Mechanics had reported on these ironically just before 9/11, and then the topic was conveniently “forgotten”, except by some conservative sources (like the Washington Time in 2009).  There is plenty of material on YouTube on how to protect electronics from such weapons – which should not be confused with promoting or building such weapons – and I have indeed linked to some of this material on defending your own property against an unusual terror incident.  So far this has not happened – but it is vigilance from the media that can help prevent it.  YouTube bans on weapons material could harm keeping the public properly informed on how to protect itself.

There are speculative claims that YouTube will ban movie trailers that show gun activity, as well as video game trailers that do the same.  The latter is rather silly, as a lot of video games are animated and don’t present real life threat.  (See my movie review March 17 of the short film “Hecarim” which Reid Ewing provided:  technically excellent, and by no means real world.  Could this kind of material be banned?  Ridiculous.) 

YouTube, as may other platforms soon, seems to be taking action its own to send a message to Congress that it does not need to weaken Section 230 (or “CDA230”) protections on other public health and safety (and perhaps terror) hazards, beside sex trafficking – the most obvious right now being guns.  It may also be comforting advertisers, but many videos have no ads.  Mine don’t – you have to reach a certain unduplicated volume of users to be allowed to show ads anyway.

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