November 9, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Should YouTube play the censor and sentinel?

A day after a brutal shooting in Finland left nine people dead, a review of YouTube showed few signs that Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the alleged gunman, was ever a user.

YouTube moved swiftly to remove Auvinen's videos and profile page from the site within hours of the murders. While many believe that's a proper and respectful response to the violence, some observers wish YouTube had allowed the videos to stay on the site so users could gain a better understanding of what happened.

"Yes, many people would find those videos disturbing," said Sonja Baumer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Berkeley. But, she cautions, "how is the public going to learn what led him to do this? The public is curious and it should have the right to respond. What are we supposed to do, just forget about it until the next time it happens?"

Baumer's point is that the videos posted to YouTube by Auvinen, who went by the username Sturmgeist89, may offer clues as to why he allegedly gunned down six of his classmates, the school nurse, and its headmistress.

"YouTube is not just a company but also a community of users. And they should be allowed to negotiate criteria for censorship."
--Sonja Baumer, UC Berkeley

Baumer was studying political participation by young people on YouTube prior to the shootings. While studying groups that were proponents of anti-immigration, she stumbled upon on some radical right-wing YouTube users with loose connections to Auvinen.

Hours before the shooting, authorities say Auvinen posted a video to YouTube that revealed his plans. Some of the other 88 clips he uploaded shed light on what Finnish police called Auvinen's "radical beliefs." A YouTube spokeswoman declined to comment.

In fairness, YouTube is in a no-win situation. Leave the videos up, and the company is accused of insensitivity. Take them down, and it's accused of censorship, regardless of the unpleasant nature of the material.

The world's most popular video-sharing site now finds itself in the middle of a very heated debate over issues of free speech, censorship, and whether the site is responsible for spotting criminals. Noel McNamara, president of the Crime Victims Support Association, was quoted Thursday in The Age, an Australian publication, saying he believes YouTube should filter for criminal or potentially criminal material.

This, according to John Palfrey, executive director of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, is too much to ask for any community site.

"The squeeze is definitely on YouTube," Palfrey said. "But it's nearly impossible to filter information as it goes online--whether you're filtering for copyright violations or hate speech. The only hope (YouTube) has, once they are notified by technology or human beings, is to take a look at something and then to take it down. I think you can require them to act responsibly after they know something is on the site."

Internet video allows anyone to broadcast to millions, but there isn't any regulatory body to supervise. According to Palfrey, YouTube must judge what is acceptable content, and is therefore thrust into the role of being the site's Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"TV is now on the Web, and it conveys the same sort of power and impact," Palfrey said. "Yet there is no FCC or someone saying you can't show that. YouTube finds itself in the same position as a government regulator. It must make judgment calls in the same way the FCC draws the line for broadcast media."

According to reports, some of Auvinen's videos espoused violent, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi ideas. Many people are asking why this material was allowed on YouTube. Auvinen owned a previous YouTube account under the username NaturalSelector89, but was booted from the site for violating its user agreement, according to reports. He simply created a new account under the name Sturmgeist89, which means "storm spirit" in German.

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32 comments

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very easy solution
if the video does not violate the companies stated policy of what an acceptable video is it shouldn't be pulled, even if a person in the video was killed or killed someone... This makes everyones life easier and doesn't make YouTube look like control freaks...
Posted by rnieves1977 (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simple Enough
That is what they should do. Alas a lot of people in this country like to sweep things they don't like under the carpet. What they don't realize is that makes them a closet supporter.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
That Seems Logical
^This.

I agree that YouTube should just lay out their rules, enforce them and if the video doesn't violate said rules, then that's that. We don't need any more "nannies" in this world trying to protect us from every little scrap and scratch.
Posted by FrankTurd (26 comments )
Link Flag
A Different Point of View
I am employed by a video sharing site. Against all odds, we review content and members daily, though we are under no obligation to do so.
We took the bull by the horns from the begining and we pay attention to what is going up on our site. To begin reviewing content at this point in time, You Tube would have to employ a mimimun of 100 workers, and having them working all shifts to get the situation in hand.

Society is in a sad state, focused solely on profit without responsibility and rather than our lives being an apology, we have opted to make them a statement.

It is time that we realize that while actions like this are the responsibility of those who commit them, corporations that provide forums for this type of communication must take some responsibility.

Are we learning nothing this year?
Posted by Claire Gaeta (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well Said
Well Said
Posted by ramudd (32 comments )
Link Flag
What responsibility?
Community communication forums should be free of such responsibilities. Is the auto maker at fault for their car being used in a car bombing? Should they stop making that model of car now, because someone committed a crime with it? Are we going to hold the telco's responsible for providing the communication network for that video to even reach YouTube? YouTube should not be under any kind of pressure for this, nor should any other site, to sugguest such is to start running down the path of facism and thought police. This kid's actions were criminal, his videos whether they told of his intentions or not still is not criminal in any way. If the video itself is not illegal in any way, then there is no legal responsibility for YouTube to do anything.

A fair solution to this issue would be to allow users to 'vote' whether a specific material is too offensive to be remain posted. If more unique visitors that actually view a particular video, etc., vote it down, than up, with a given minimum threshold of valid votes, it gets taken offline, automatically. No extra screening employees, no power of censorship in the hands of a few.

The Internet provides this amazing method of true democracy, and consensus of the group conscience. We could actually apply this in many facets of our modern life. 1000's of minds working in concert is better and smarter than even the smartest single mind.

I have never agreed with censorship, in many ways it is actually illegal, especially when dealing with copyrighted works. To alter (even by censorship) a copyrighted work, without the copyright holders permission, is violation a of copyright law. Not that this kids videos are copyrighted, but in other cases, it does apply.

It is so frightening how ready people appear to be to embrace facism and loss of basic freedoms. Either that or its just more propoganda, stirred up by those who wish to push us in that direction. You decide and think for yourself, dont let someone else decide for you, and by all means do not ever make it someone elses responsibility to decide for you.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Link Flag
Responsiblity For What Exactly?
What exactly should they be responsible for? Reading through your post I can't tell if you thought they should leave it up as ok, or take it down if it's not? Nor did I see how to tell the differnet. What's good on Monday should be good on Tuesday in spite of events.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
Censorship is ALWAYS wrong
Everyone has a right to express their opinions. No matter how offensive those thoughts are to others.

If you don't like what someone says, stop listening to them.

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it."
Posted by sismoc (119 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You Have Got To Be Kidding or Young
Obviously you were not around in the 50's. Free Speech? What is that? Ask a Black person who was here in the 50's about Free Speech. Even this site says they will remove offending messages or personal attacks or profanity. I guess free speech is different where you come from.
Posted by ramudd (32 comments )
Link Flag
someone's got a lot to learn
If you don't like what someone says, stop listening to them? Interesting concept.
So, let's say someone is saying something about you. You are quite free to disagree and stop listening. Problem is, others are listening too, they LIKE believing what that someone is saying about you, and really don't care whether it costs you or your family jobs, money, reputation or, too often, worse. It gives them something juicy to share with their neighbours and, after all, they have the freedom to hear, believe, and say what they want about you or anything (or anyone) else. The truth is irrelevant, since they don't know you personally and really don't care what happens to you. You're certainly free to deny the story at your next interview for a job or home mortgage, but the person interviewing you is also free, to say no and go on to someone else. What's YOUR freedom worth, now?
Posted by Xeyes (1 comment )
Link Flag
What is their definition of acceptable content?
Google/Youtube seems to have no trouble censoring when it is
someone they disagree with politically such as conservatives like
Michelle Malkin who has had political videos removed from
Youtube as "hate speech." You see conservatives = hate speech
in the mind of Google bots, but to these same people, some
lunatic with a gun explaining how he is going to kill everyone he
knows is someone expressing free speech and is someone we
need to listen to in order to gain better understanding of him.
The problem with sites such as this is not their inability to police
the site, it is their lack of ability to employ common sense
policing policies.
Posted by dsstroud (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Changing Roles
YouTube is neither responsible for the content of user posted videos nor censorship of inappropriate material. This is another case of an attempt to make private citizens/corporations into involuntary law enforcement agencies.

As with immigration, government officials incapable of enforcing their own laws would place their burden on private people, encouraging us all to turn in our neighbors.

At the same time, Congress is considering giving the Department of Justice the authority to pursue civil cases.

YouTube has the right to do whatever they decide with the content posted by users. Ultimately, economic factors will decide this question--which path will result in the least attrition of their user base?
Posted by Pete Bardo (687 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NO!!
FREEDOM OF SPEECH ALWAYS!
Posted by jimmymist (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
exactly why user generated content
should remain as user-controlled content
Posted by jimmymist (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Move along, nothing to see here...
Teah, "our" government, which is swiftly removing our civil liberties, is afraid the truth might come out on the net, so they are hot to find Any excuse to censor. You sure don't get the truth in the mainstream media, which is half responsible for leading us into this worthless war, since they were asleep at the switch
Posted by cybervigilante (529 comments )
Reply Link Flag
50 year old TV shows
should stay on Youtube. Cable & nets don't want them.
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Link Flag
Don't really care, YouTube's call
If YouTube wants to remove a video for whatever reason they are allowed to do so, it is after all their site, they host the content, they pay for the storage space, etc. If YouTube wants to keep the video up, they are also free to do that. I don't really care either way.

Its when people begin saying that YouTube must do this, or can not do that, or worse when people say there should be laws to tell them what to do or not to do about this type of thing. Hello, its their site, and your not paying for use of it are you? They are under no obligation whatsoever in my eyes to do, or not do anything. If you don't like YouTube content then make your own damn site, and then you can be the censor of what is offensive or not.

Personally if I were a major user of video sharing sites I would want the one who censors the least, but informs the most. Tag content as violent, or sexual, or whatever, but let me decide whether to view it or not, let me be my own personal censor, not someone else. By informing the user of the nature of the content, before they actually view it, can help avoid these huge issues, because I suspect a lot of peoples complaints are related to times when they accidentally saw something they really did not want to see, and had no warning vs. something they think no one should be allowed to see (which no one should have the right to actually do).
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ban All Press / Media
Ban All Press & Media and mass communication, because nutters exploit them for their own causes. especially CNET :)
Posted by ggrs34 (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Censorship is the Disease
Ignorance is a symptom.

Freedom of Expression is the treatment.

Knowledge is the cure.
Posted by SpiritMatter (68 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get off it.
YouTube is a company that has the right to take off any video it wants. It has been VERY open to allowing almost anything, but there is a line.

As many people, obviously yourself included, fail to acknowledge is that with freedom comes responsibility. Most people want freedom, but do not acknowledge the responsibilities that come with it.
Posted by rgc6789 (3 comments )
Link Flag
sick minds are the disease- you know the rest
Posted by enepia (1 comment )
Link Flag
Youtube is a company
When i last checked youtube was a company owned by google.
Although part of this companies objective is to access the commons for as many content producers as it can it is still a company.
Being a company makes Youtube sensitive.
Mind you if youtube was a commons system then it too would have sensitivity issues.
So anyway if youtube for reasons of legal sensitivity want to remove content then you are dealing with a legal issue.
So what law is there that catagorically states people accessing data on a public medium can't see videos made by a mass murderer that are not actually snuff.If you do go down this road without bashing heads as to what is acceptable you could end up with more unacceptable things happening.
So the answer to whether youtube should play the parent the answer is not really unless the legal framework for doing so has been decided by all interested groups.
Personally though yes i would have liked to ponder what was triggering such uncontrollable desires.
Perhaps the real question is are some people on earth ending up with serious psychological problems and what are all the abuses that can produce this psychological problem in people.
I think it's good to remember that many mind issues do relate to nurture issues and nature issues are more subtle and not of direct influence but instead factors(people making money from chemical solutions think the exact oppsite yet the evidence point this way and not theirs especially as the real data is comming of age) and thus is why you may see the same looking person in prison as might be your helpful neighbour.
If you are a geneticist and think you can prove me wrong on that point i would love to see how think you can do it with real evidence.
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Leave You tube alone:(
I don't agree with every thing posted on you tube, but I think people have a right to post it. If you tube changes, it will lose the edge it has on other video hosting companies. Most people like it as it once was. Slowly it is losing what made it so popular in the first place.
Posted by ralahinn1 (52 comments )
Reply Link Flag
VISIT MY SITE,www.youtube.com/HABAKKUP.Im going to command the armies of the planet to the real FREEDOM.The armies of Babylon,this is the way!!!GO YOU TUBE!!!!!
Posted by HABAKKUK = (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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