The latest so-called Adpocolypse has hit YouTube. This refers to a crackdown on the advertisements (and thus monetisation) available to content creators. I want to provide some background for this and then wrestle with a problem that I think this crackdown creates.
The origins: Steven Crowder and Carlos Maza
Carlos Masa is a journalist working for Vox, and Crowder calls himself a comedian. In recent years, Crowder has repeatedly attacked Maza, who is gay, calling him, among other things, a ‘lispy queer’. You see the sort of man Crowder is. Maza accused youtube of hypocrisy for allowing Crowder to use their platform while claiming to support Pride Month. You can see his point, even if it is not possible for the company to monitor everything that is posted. Maza also demanded that youtube act against Crowder for his homophobic slurs and attacks on him.
It should be noted that while homophobia is abhorrent, simply using the words ‘queer’ or ‘fag’ or any other slur, does not amount to a crime. These are, as George Carlin said, only words. Allowing words to have power over us is a show not of strength, but of insecurity. Unless and until someone advocates violence, or does libel or slander, you are free to say basically anything. That includes, as much as I do not like it, hate speech. Allow me to be absolutely clear on this point with an extreme example. You can say ‘I hate the Jews’ as much as you like, but the moment you say ‘kill the Jews’ we have a problem. The latter is a call to violence, the former is not.
The Marketplace of Ideas, Part One
As much as I disagree with what he said, Crowder should not have been de-platformed (which he was not). It would strike a considerable double standard to take Crowder down when IS massacres and other highly violent content is on YouTube. Also, not to violate the slippery slope fallacy, but if you censor content because someone used words that someone else found offensive, that sets one hell of a precedent. Somebody’s feelings dictating what happens to a YouTube channel? If the purpose of this platform was to be a bathroom wall, where anything could be written, then stick to that.
The exceptions to this are, as I said above, limited, but clearly, anything that is actually illegal needs to be policed. I refer here to rape, child pornography and other such heinous and depraved acts. If these videos are found, they should be removed. The difference between the content just described and bigoted words should be clear: the former are crimes, the latter is not. But what do we do about other so-called ‘controversial content’? What of 9/11 ‘truthers’, or Sandy Hook ‘truthers’ and other such conspiracy nuts? What of the JFK assassination conspiracy? I will return to this at the end, but what of climate science denial? Or anti-vaccination advocates? Who defines what content is controversial (and why), and should a corporation (or the government for that matter) have that kind of power?
YouTube’s response was curious, to say the least: Crowder was not de-platformed, but his videos were demonetised. An odd half-measure to say the least: we cannot actually take him down, but we will remove ads from his videos. But it did not stop there. In their search for ‘hateful content’, YouTube demonetised channels which track extremism and even targeted a history channel because it displayed and discussed Nazi propaganda from a historical perspective. It is clear that a form of a dragnet is in place here, and context is being utterly ignored. Youtube seemingly cannot tell the difference between the discussion of hateful content and the approving display of said content. This is why you do not place a computer algorithm in charge of content regulation.
The Marketplace of Ideas, Part Two: A Personal Quandary
I asked above what is to be done about content that is at odds with the available facts. On this issue, I am torn. On the one hand, people can say what they like (short of the usual caveats). But on the other hand, ideas that are demonstrably false and/or dangerous (climate science denial and anti-vax) have no place in public discourse. These ideas include creationism, flat earth, and trickle-down economics. All of these are based on lies and should not to be legitimised (even if intentionally) by being discussed alongside the facts. We are not required, to paraphrase Bill Maher, to balance the facts with the anti-facts.
Is this a form of intellectual fascism that punishes ‘wrong think’ by removing it from the discussion? Perhaps it is, and hence the quandary. That said, as long as there is debate over issues that involve facts that can be known there will be no progress. As long as the right (and it usually is the right) can create this false equivalence between the facts and the anti-facts, we are stuck.
It is for this reason that I decried the ‘debate’ between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham. One is a scientist who is backed in his views by every field of scientific study, and the other believes in myths contained in a bronze age book. Putting these men on the same stage creates an equivalence between them that is not justified.
Let us relate this back to YouTube. It is unclear where this would lead, but part of me supports removing non-fact-based content where there are known facts. You may be entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Whether it is the whole ‘race-IQ’ sector or some other anti-fact nonsense that serves no other purpose but to poison the discourse, progress matters more than your opinion.
To end on a lighter note, I am aware of the irony of saying progress matters more than your opinion as I give my opinion.
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