Thursday, November 29, 2007

YouTube - in defence of human rights?

Today's issue of Global Voices Online featured YouTube's removal of the account of Wael Abbas, a well-known and respected blogger in Egypt.

In one stroke, this arm of the mighty Google has removed the ability of Egyptian human rights' activists and journalists to broadcast to the world the inhumanity and brutality of the Egyptian police, who are presumably working with the cognisance of the Egyptian authorities.

Why? Because, strictly speaking, Wael Abbas has broken the rules.

Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.

Wael Abbas had posted video clips of Egyptian police torturing and abusing people in custody.

Whether YouTube will provide a fuller explanation of its censorship remains to be seen, but the ironic explanation of its action is that it was reacting not to pressure from the Egyptian authorities, but to the squeamishness of American users, who really don't want to see the very nasty side of life endured by ordinary, poor people in this token democracy, heavily subsidised by American aid.

I did watch one of these videos a few months ago. It's not for the fainthearted I agree. But where else can people post full, factual information about abuse and corruption?

One of the strengths of YouTube is that it is universal.

The video service is caught between a rock and a hard place. Scenes, for example, "of an Egyptian bus driver, his hands bound, being sodomised with a stick by a police officer" are not what I would want my kids to watch, even if I could understand the genuine anger and motivation of the blogger who posted it.

On the other hand, my kids would complain if I didn't give them the space to view what they wanted.

Even if the blogger was able to post and stream his own videocasts on a server elsewhere, it's quite likely that someone would object to his ISP about the content, and the offending items would still have to be removed.

Overall, however objectionable the material, its removal does seem to me to strike at whichever Amendment it is that defends free speech.

I do have just one query. How did Abbas get hold of these videos in the first place? Presumably he is not a police officer. I can't help but suspect that his motivations may be mixed. He probably wouldn't be able to say since that would compromise his sources.

Also see The Hub.