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News Opinion/Commentary Social media

YouTube cracks down on misinformation. How far will they go?

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YouTube has vowed to crack down on vaccine ‘misinformation’.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported YouTube was cracking down on ‘misinformation on the COVID-19 and other vaccines. As a result, YouTube has already removed over 130,000 videos. 

YouTube has seen a worrying trend surrounding vaccine misinformation.

“We’ve steadily seen false claims about the coronavirus vaccines spill over into misinformation about vaccines in general.

YouTube said they won’t penalise creators for sharing personal experiences. They also promised to allow content that talked ahput vaccine trials and historical successes and failures of vaccines.

Controversial osteopath and lawyer among the banned

YouTube banned American osteopath, Dr Joseph Mercola. 

He lamented on Twitter:

Anyone who asks questions or challenges the hard sell is immediately censored on social media.

Lawyer, Robert F Kennedy has also complained about the crackdown Through a representative, he lamented:

Free speech is the essential core value of a liberal democracy. All other rights and ideals rest upon it. There is no instance in history when censorship and secrecy have advanced either democracy or public health.

These bans have caused outrage overseas. YouTube banned Germany’s RTDE from posting on their channel. YouTube has also banned Russia’s RT channel from uploading further content.

Russia’s foreign ministry has slammed YouTube’s actions as “flagrant censorship and [a] suppression of freedom of expression”.

“Ad – pocalypse”: a reason to be wary

When I first read about this, I was skeptical.

I can’t help but think about what happened in 2016 and 2017. The ‘ad – pocalypse” saw the relationship between content creators and YouTube irreparably damaged. 

For those who don’t know, YouTube cracked down on content they deemed not “family friendly”. One YouTuber that fell victim to this crackdown was Swedish gaming YouTuber, Pewdie Pie. 

In 2017, Ad – pocalypse heated up. Major businesses, such as Amazon and Coca Cola revolted against YouTube after their ads were found on extremist content.

This revolt made Google lose almost US$1billion (US$750million to be exact). 

In response, YouTube cracked down on questionable and “borderline” content. Meaning: everyone who is not CNN or MSNBC have seen their AdSense revenue, views and subscriber count tank or climb at a snail pace.

Content creators have turned to other means of making income, such as Patreon and SubscribeStar to keep afloat. 

Secular Talk‘s Kyle Kulinski has been a vocal critic, claiming that his analytics have suffered ever since.

This is why I’m skeptical about Google’s latest move. Any independent creator with any criticisms or queries about vaccines will probably be penalised. CNN, MSNBC and Fox News will remain favoured by YouTube’s algorithm. 

I find it hard to believe that people who open up about adverse effects from vaccines will not be penalised. YouTube’s algorithm are less than perfect. From my understanding, they rely on tags. Tags don’t usually tell the context of the video.

So, if you talk about the ‘covid vaccine’ as a tag, YouTube may disable AdSense or otherwise penalise you, regardless of your intent.

Big Tech corporations have a habit of going too far when monitoring content. This should make all social media users wary, regardless of your views.

What do you think about Google’s anti – vaccine crackdown? Justified or too far? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Opinion/Commentary

Free speech: one thing U.S. has right

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 Americans get a number of stereotypes: their ignorant about the world, they’re highly religious, etc. I find it hard to get my head around their attitudes towards guns (the leaders and opponents of change, anyway), especially when mass shootings seem to be frequently covered in the media. But one thing I am starting to admire the U.S. for is the First Amendment of their constitution. I can see why people, Australians included, may envy that, especially when we have 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.1

18C and its impact on free speech

The RDA became a hot topic after two highly publicised court cases. One of them was Eatock vs. Bolt, where Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, was sued under the Racial Discrimination Act for articles about Aboriginal identity. The court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and the two articles were permanently banned. For the record, I didn’t read the articles, but from what I’ve read about the aftermath, frankly, I find the repercussions against Bolt, heartbreaking. It’s made him a pariah in some circles, with vile abuse written about him on social media, to death threats against his family  that were so severe that his children were removed by police from the family home.

Another case that hit the media involved Cindy Price and three students: Alex Wood, Callum Thwaite and Jackson Powell of Queensland University of Technology (QUT). A number of students made private settlements to avoid court. The court case ruled against Prior, ordering her to repay A$200,000. The students didn’t leave the case unscathed, with one student abandoning his plans of ironically, teaching Aboriginal children due to the stigma of the court case.

What are people concerned about

One of the arguments against changing the RDA is the fear of lack of protections for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander people and other racial minorities. Last year, Labor Government suggested that theLGBTQ+ should also be protected.

Some proponents of changing or scrapping Section 18C haven’t helped the cause. A classic example was George Brandis’ infamous claim that ‘people have a right to be bigots in 2014.

There needs to be more to free speech than that. The reason why the U.S. has it right is, yes, people have the right to be bigots, but… other people willingly bite back. 

Put aside Google’s ‘ad pocalypse’, YouTube has proven to be a space that sparks debate and accountability for politicians and media personalities alike.

An example of this I found recently was David Pakman (The Dave Pakman Show) when he attacked Dave Rubin (Rubin Report) for not challenging Lebanese – born Islam critic, Gabriel Brigitte for her false claims she about George Sorros.

Another channel that gives freedom of speech a great name is Secular Talk. Host Kyle Kulinski is a fierce defender of free speech. In August, Kulinski criticised Apple, Spotify and YouTube for removing some of his content and permanently banning him. 

Kyle Kulinski criticised the boycot against controversial podcaster, Alex Jones.

Does that mean that Kulinski agreed with everything Jones said or did? Hell no! Next time you’re on YouTube, go and check out the Secular Talk channel and look at some of his rebuttals against Jones (andcountless others). They’re pretty awesome.

 ‘But loosening 18C will only embolden haters.’ critics of the suggestion claim. While I’m sympathetic to the to the fear, I am starting to see that there is a better way.

Section 18C of the RDA should be replaced by a culture of robust debate and having various voices heard. I think we need a thriving media industry that goes beyond the ABC/ Newscorp duopoly. 

What do you think about free speech in Australia? Do you think we have enough or should acts like 18C of RDA be scrapped? Let me knpw your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Media Social media

Free speech, the media and social media: Should all platforms be absolutist on content they allow or publish?

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Controversial right – wing radio presenter and conspiracy theorist of Infowars, Alex Jones has reportedly been banned from Faceboook and YouTube. Apparently some of his podcasts have also been pulled by Apple and Spotify.

Jones is infamous for calling 2012’s Sandy Hook school massacre a hoax and claiming that the September 11 attacks were staged.

Facebook has defended it’s decision, accusing Jones of ‘glorifying violence’, and using ‘dehumanising language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants’.

Somewhat surprisingly, Twitter hasn’t followed YouTube’s and Facebook’s footsteps. Jones’ official Twitter account is still active.

Social media, traditional media and free speech

Did Facebook and Google/ YouTube violate freedom of speech as protected in the US Constitution? No. The First Amendment of the US Constitution:

…protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference.  (emphasis mine).

The First Amendment of the US Constitution specifically prohibits any government restricting any US citizen’s right to freedom of expression and also prohibits the US government from creating a theocracy and allow citizens freed9m to make up their own minds about belief. It also protects freedom of association. This doesn’t mean that companies like Google/ YouTube and Facebook can’t set standards on what can and can’t be uploaded or published on those platforms. I believe that media and social media platforms have the right to protect their brand by not allowing what they consider extremism, advocating for jihad, etc.

I’m going to talk about this by referring back to the Sky News Australia controversy last Sunday, when far – Right extremist, Blair Cottrell was given free reign on The Adam Giles’ Show. Sky News Australia’s decision to allow Cottrell to express extremist views largely unchallenged caused some brands such as Specsavers and Huggies to pull their sponsorship in revolt, despite condemnation from presenters such as Andrew Bolt, Laura Jayes and David Speers and the regret expressed by the – then Sky News Australia News Director, Greg Byrnes.

This is why, while I do get the arguments for a lack of restrictions in free speech in the legal sense, I also support the right for companies, especially in the media and social media, to maintain certain standards and limits on what can be said on their programs and platforms. What they allow, I believe, can affect their branding, either positively or negatively.

However, I do think companies like Facebook and YouTube should be consistent. Facebook in particular has come under fire in the past for allegedly silencing conservative posts, while not deleting antisemitic or other hate comments, posts or pages. They have also come under fire for allowing violent or sexual content that should be prohibited in their Community Standards, while deleting images of women breastfeeding their babies. Consistency needs to be key.

Should a platform simply ban speech because of clashing political views? Well, I argue again, that legally, there’s nothing stopping them, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. Last year during the same – sex marriage debate in Australia, Facebook was attacked for pulling down posts and disabling the account of one of the founders of FamilyVoice Australia. This, in my view, was a stupid move by Facebook. They reversed the decision after presenters from Sky News Australia confronted them about it. To my knowledge, after that, all the original content was put back and all associated accounts were active.

Bloggers and moderators of news sites such as news.com.au, Herald Sun, and Mamamia should maintain the freedom to accept or reject any comments that they see fit. Arguably, this may be seen as limiting debate, but, honestly, it should be the moderators’ or creators’ prerogative. They do have a product and reputation to maintain.

To me, it boils down to this: while people shouldn’t be prosecuted for what they say (apart from libel or death threats), they should still be held accountable, at least in the public square. Not every opinion needs to be tolerated or given a platform, especially if an extremist view goes unchallenged.

What do you think of Google/ YouTube and Facebook’s decision to suspend Alex Jones from their platforms? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Disclaimer:

In my blog post about Sky News Australia, I said that Newscorp owned Win and Ten. I was wrong. Ten was bought by US’s CBS late last year. If I remember correctly, when Ten started getting into financial trouble, there was talk about Murdoch/ Newscorp buying and trying to rescue it, but CBS bet them to it. Win is owned by Bruce Gordon. Their parent company is Oberon Broadcasters Pty Ltd.

Update: 

Here is a contrary view of what I said about the Alex Jones controversy. Sticking to his principles, Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski slammed Facebook’s, Google and the other platforms for de – platforming Jones.

I think Kulinski has a point, however, I can’t help but think that social media and media should be able to preserve their commercial reputation and limit the people who breach their standards, given that they are consistent. I’m not sure. I’d really like to know what you all think about this.