I've been wondering when this was going to start. YouTube has pulled the plug on an Egyptian activist who was using his channel to post evidence of torture and police brutality in his home country, apparently because of his graphic and shocking content. The activist, blogger Wael Abbas, was previously instrumental in distributing a clip that led to the arrest and conviction of two Egyptian police officers for sodomizing a prisoner. YouTube has brought his work - and the work of other Egyptian activists like him - to an even wider audience.
It seems viewers were complaining about the disturbing nature of his videos, although one wonders why someone who would be disturbed by video of police brutality and torture clicked on a video clearly labeled as depicting police brutality and torture. (It should be noted that YouTube policy strictly forbids posting videos depicting graphic violence and YouTube is completely within their rights to suspend Abbas' account. It should also be noted that YouTube rarely acts to remove content or shut down accounts unless someone complains. With the incredibly vast amount of material posted to YouTube on a daily basis, it's virtually impossible to police the site any other way.) Calls for censorship in the name of decency have always been one of the most effective tools for restricting access to information, whether that information concerns sex education or evidence of governmental wrongdoing. Who wants to be the one to stand up in the public square and declare that its OK for video of police officers sodomizing prisoners to be posted where children might stumble across it? It should be - the responsibility for monitoring what kids watch on YouTube falls squarely with their parents in my book.
But still, "decency" trumps all. How many disturbing images of what really happened at Abu Ghraib did we not see because CNN considered them too graphic, too disturbing? That's what makes the "decency" argument so infuriating to me - it gives the people who control our access to information the perfect dodge for not pursiung an important story. (Of course, the decency argument did not apply when media pundits saw fit to describe the really juicy bits of the Starr Report in explicit detail.) What other stories are we missing out on because they don't want to "disturb" us? It's worth noting that other Eygptian bloggers aren't certain YouTube's actions are due to pressure from the Egyptian government:
Elijah Zarwan, a prominent blogger in Egypt, said he thought it unlikely that YouTube had come under official Egyptian pressure to suspend Abbas's page.
He claimed it was more plausible that the site was reacting to the graphic nature of the videos. "I suspect they are doing it not under pressure from the Egyptian government, but rather because it made American viewers squeamish," he said.
(Hat tip to Moonbootica via the Crack Den.)