Tuesday August 27th 2019 is special day for those defending free speech: PragerU is suing tech giant YouTube/Google for censorship of PragerU’s videos.
PragerU is a publisher of center-right content. As of Aug. 25th, 2019 their videos have been viewed 2.5 billion times.
Recently however, Google started restricting many of Prager videos. These restricted videos now number 100 and include:
- Are the police racist? — Heather Mac Donald
- Israel’s Legal Founding — Alan Dershowitz
- Ten Commandments — Dennis Prager
Each one of these videos was treated as “Unsuitable for young people”, treating them the same as videos containing pornography and excessive violence.
The recent changes to YouTube’s ranking AI has a lot of content creators upset since many videos are becoming hard to find. For example say you are searching for the title of PragerU’s video “are the police racist”. Despite the exact match of the video title a bunch of other videos related published by mainstream media are prioritized first:
Notice that PragerU’s video is 11th on the list. To investigate I looked at each video and laid out the videos (in order) of rank, along with other metrics such as the the number of likes and dislikes:
What’s telling here is how the AI is ranking a channel like NBC4 WCMH-TV which has few views and a very low like/dislike ratio, over the PragerU.
In total, PragerU has 100 videos that have been restricted, many of them having nothing to do with politics.
What’s the big deal? Isn’t Google a private company that can do whatever it wants?
For most companies that act as publishers, the answer is yes. However Google long ago opted to be a platform, rather than a publisher. That has special meaning in the law, specifically section 230 of the communications decency act, which says:
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” (47 U.S.C. § 230). Online intermediaries that host or republish speech are protected against a range of laws that might otherwise be used to hold them legally responsible for what others say and do.
In order to shield itself from liability of objectionable content, Google, YouTube and the rest of the social media giants have opted to be a platform, rather than a publisher. However recently, the social media giants have opted to censor and restrict online content. This means they are no longer acting as a platform, but as a publisher.
Google and the rest of the social media giants are trying to play both sides of the coin.
PragerU is fighting back