Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: YouTube (page 1 of 2)

When Tech Companies Do Right

Yesterday, I mentioned in a post the importance of talking about tech companies not only when they do poorly, but also when they do right. In that post, I mentioned how Twitter has shied from moderating content on their platform even in the most contentious of circumstances, showing their dedication to free expression online. There are numerous other examples: YouTube’s dedication to leaving up violent content when it constitutes news (particularly relevant in the recent uprisings across the Arab world) is a good one. And while I disagree with Flickr’s decision vis-a-vis Hossam El-Hamalawy’s uploading of photos from Amn El Dawla, I appreciate Yahoo!’s thoughtfulness in evaluating their policies after the fact.

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (aka my soon-to-be-employer) released a report evaluating transparency and privacy practices of the most popular online companies. The easy-to-read format of the report shows Google coming out on top, which doesn’t surprise me: The tech giant has made a valiant effort to make users aware of government requests for data, as well as government-initiated content takedowns. Twitter appears to be doing a great job as well, which doesn’t surprise me. On the other hand, the absence of Skype betrays a narrative of it being a “safe tool” (something that privacy experts have long known not to be true).

Though the report is thorough in dealing with privacy and transparency, I would love to see a similar report on how the same companies rank when it comes to censoring user content (hey, maybe that’ll be my first project!). I would imagine we’d see Twitter somewhere near the top, and Facebook just about dead last.

re:publica 2011: this is our public sphere

I’m in Berlin for re:publica 2011, a conference I’ve been wanting to go to for at least two years and which I was invited to speak at this year. When organizer Markus Beckedahl contacted me in January to speak, he was excited about my September 2010 paper, Policing Content in the Quasi-Public Sphere. Just a week into the Tunisia uprising, the paper was about to see a resurgence in relevance as activists there and in Egypt would face account deactivations for using pseudonyms, posting graphic videos, and “spamming” users with information.

Though video of the talk won’t be online for a couple of weeks, I was pretty proud of how it went, and the tweetstream that followed reinforced my feeling. Oddly enough, I couldn’t see my notes and had to “wing it” – luckily, I’d spent so much time typing them up (and speaking about this topic) that it turned out I didn’t really need them after all.

I took the audience through the five examples in the paper (Twitter, Blogspot, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr), focusing on the latter three and their particular importance to Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings. Examples included the takedown in November 2010 of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page, the freezing of the Sayeb Sala7 page for being “generic”, the removal of Hossam Hamalawy’s Flickr photos of Egyptian security forces, and YouTube’s policy of placing an interstitial warning page on graphic videos (a policy I actually don’t mind).

YouTube's warning page for graphic content

I also talked about why this all matters; that the Internet is our public sphere, our town square, except that it’s global, and definitively the only global forum for our modern world. It is certainly the only forum that just about anyone can participate, despite remaining barriers to access for many. And yet, it’s decentralized, owned by private companies whose bottom line is money, not free expression.

And even still, “decentralized” is almost the wrong term, as Facebook increasingly resembles a monopoly. Facebook has no competitors: Diaspora is tiny, Orkut is big only in Brazil and India (and even in India, Facebook is taking over). You can take your speech elsewhere, surely, but there’s no telling if anyone will follow you, or listen. Facebook is important, it’s where the network is. That’s why it’s all the more important that we, its users, act like consumers and stop staying quiet when it breaches our confidence, our privacy, our safety, or our rights.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions as to why I’m more outspoken about Facebook than say, Flickr (which has surely breached users’ confidence) or YouTube. My main response is this: Both are important sites, and the most popular of their kind. And yet, both have plenty of competitors. The networks on each exists but are de-emphasized; when you post something on YouTube or Flickr, you expect a large part of your traffic to come from external sites: Facebook, Twitter, blogs. You can take it elsewhere, without much suffering. Facebook is assuredly different.

I will be sure to share the talk with you when it’s online: It was fun, I got a few laughs (a great coup in the German tech space, I’m told), and it was illustrated by Anna Lena Schiller. I will also do my best to blog a couple of other sessions (Noha Atef is speaking later today on Egyptian social media stories; a topic which will surely be relevant to my own work).

Addition: Slides from my presentation are below.

Internet Killed Israeli PR; Israel Killed YouTube Video

In Turkey and in Thailand, and perhaps elsewhere, there are a few YouTube videos you can’t see; videos in violation of local laws–in Turkey, insulting Ataturk, and in Thailand, lèse majesté. Though both governments filter their fair share of websites (and now, Turkey blocks YouTube as well), in this case, the filtering is not coming from governments, but from YouTube which, rather than risk being blocked entirely by the local government, chooses to geolocationally filter offending videos for the local populace. In 2008, the New York Times explained a bit of the process in Turkey:

Wong decided that Google, by using a technique called I.P. blocking, would prevent access to videos that clearly violated Turkish law, but only in Turkey. For a time, her solution seemed to satisfy the Turkish judges, who restored YouTube access.

This morning, reports have emerged from Israel suggesting that the same is happening there. A video, released yesterday and entitled “Video Killed Israeli PR”, has been reported inaccessible by Israelis all morning:

A closer look determines that the video, which parodies Israel’s public relations, is perfectly accessible in the United States, and elsewhere…except in Israel. Ali Abunimah, who caught the story early on, writes:

After receiving an initial report that the video could not be viewed in Israel, I asked a contact there to check and he replied that when he attempted to view it on YouTube: “This video is not available in your country due to terms of use violation.” The screenshot below sent by http://twitter.com/AbuKedem shows what happens when someone in Israel tries to view the video:

Though no word from YouTube just yet (a few folks have sent out e-mails), it seems very likely that YouTube has blocked the video within Israel at the request of the Israeli government. It is unclear whether or not the video violates local laws.

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