January 24, 2016

Why I'm a Defender of YouTube

There's stuff about today's Internet that I love, and there's stuff about today's Internet that I hate. This seems entirely fair and just and proper, given that I have much the same feelings about the world at large and humanity in particular.

One of the aspects of the Internet that I love is Google's YouTube.

It is, in many ways, at the center of the Internet universe and of our Internet lives for many of us, despite advancing efforts of its various competitors to (in some cases literally and illicitly) steal its thunder.

Personally, I don't much care about the latest dance video to hit a billion YT views. And I've never monetized any of my own videos on YouTube, so my videos up there have never made me a dime, not even one that recently passed a million views itself.

That's all fine with me.

It's also fine with me that other folks do monetize, and do care about those billion dance video views -- because all of that is what helps pay the bills that keep those Google data centers humming along and spewing forth those godzillabytes of YouTube video streams.

I mostly watch YouTube for current "issues of importance" items, occasional current entertainment, educational and often money-saving "how-to" videos of all sorts, and gobs of archival searches.

In that last category tend to be not only the nostalgic clips from yesteryear -- often that I haven't seen in decades, but frequently incredible serendipity from YouTube's astronomical corpus of uploaders and their videos. In fact, this posting today was partly inspired by my stumbling upon wonderful 1974 videos this morning that I never knew existed, showing the comedian Marty Feldman performing classic Tom Lehrer songs. Praise be to YouTube!

There is also a seeming dark side to YouTube -- but in fact it is not actually of YouTube at all, but rather a reflection of the world's own Yin and Yang, for the astronomical quantities of video being uploaded to YouTube 24/7/365 represent but a reflection of humanity in all its wonderful glory and hideous evil. YouTube itself is no more responsible for the existence of planet Earth's problems than a mirror hanging on the wall is responsible for the images reflecting from it.

It is also my belief that most attempts to force Google to censor YouTube tend to be misguided in the extreme. For example, YouTube already prohibits explicitly violent videos that could reasonably be interpreted to incite attacks on people, animals, or property -- all addressed via YouTube's existing Terms of Service. Efforts to bury and hide all evil from public view will inevitably result in blowback that can ultimately be even more damaging to society.

There are indeed practical and reasonable limits to specific speech in certain extreme and specific situations, but using fears of terrorism as an excuse to try impose broad restrictions on free speech aren't effective nor appropriate ways to fight terrorism -- they are in fact ceding power to the very terrorist philosophies that we wish to eradicate.

Google is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to YouTube in particular. Governments around the world want to control YT for their own ends, often to the political or personal financial advantage of their own nations' leaders and other politicians.

And YouTube is lodged between the devil and the deep blue sea in terms of other dilemmas as well.

A large percentage of the Google-related queries I receive virtually every day involve YouTube. Often these are concerns from users who are complaining about problems that their uploaded videos are having with YouTube's Content ID system, or with copyright strikes, or with other related YT Terms of Use matters where they're unhappy with associated responses they've received from Google regarding their concerns.

I try to help to the limited extent that I'm able. At the least I can often offer free advice. And I often feel for them, too. I've had my own YT videos that suffered errant Content ID hits. I once saw my entire main YouTube account closed (and later restored in full, after some considerable effort on my part) due to mistaken copyright strikes.

Frequently in these queries is expressed the belief that Google is attacking them -- these individual YouTube users -- out of evil, or spite, or just because they can. There is not infrequently an implicit (or explicit) assumption that YouTube favors the "big guys" over the "little guys" when it comes to rights disputes.

But in reality there is no spite nor evil there, and the perceived imbalance between users is the result of the way domestic and international laws and agreements are written -- for example the DMCA -- these are complex issues and legal edicts with which Google must abide.

This is not to suggest that improvements in YouTube's usually automated and rather officious DMCA claim/counterclaim system wouldn't be welcome, certainly. But Google is significantly legally constrained in flexibility in these regards, and an unbiased, longitudinal examination will show that major improvements have been deployed in these YouTube processes, especially for individual uploaders, particularly over the last few years.

Yet beyond all this is the foundational truth that without Content ID and copyright strikes, without the YouTube Terms of Service and claim forms and all the rest -- including all the great people at YouTube/Google who work their asses off (tech-wise and policy-wise) to keep it all going -- YouTube as we know it today likely could not exist at all, and much of what we find so wondrous there would blink out of existence like a shooting star crossing the horizon.

There's no major moral to this post today, well, except perhaps this ...

In a time of fascist politicians spouting simplistic slogans about race, religion, terrorism, and censorship, along with whatever other pandering platitudes they believe will win them votes, prestige, power, and control -- it's worth remembering how much good the Internet brings us, and how much poorer we'd all be in so many ways for the shackling of Internet services like YouTube, in the name of such self-serving proclamations and damaging false solutions.

Be seeing you.

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so -- my opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at January 24, 2016 12:52 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein