If YouTube gets away with censoring as big a website as PragerU what will happen to other conservative institutions?
Last week, The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial about YouTube restricting access to 16 videos — down from 21 — that were created and posted online by my nonprofit educational organization, Prager University. The subheading read, "YouTube thinks Dennis Prager's videos may be dangerous." The Journal said:
"Tech giants like Google and Facebook always deny that their platforms favor some viewpoints over others, but then they don't do much to avoid looking censorious. ... Dennis Prager's 'PragerU' puts out free short videos on subjects 'important to understanding American values' — ranging from the high cost of higher education to the motivations of Islamic State.
"The channel has more than 130 million views. ... As you might guess, the mini-seminars do not include violence or sexual content. But more than 15 videos are 'restricted' on YouTube ... This means the clips don't show up for those who have turned on filtering — say, a parent shielding their children from explicit videos. A YouTube spokesperson told us that the setting is optional and 'based on algorithms that look at a number of factors, including community flagging on videos.'
"PragerU started a petition calling for YouTube to remove the restriction, and more than 66,000 people have signed. YouTube is free to set its own standards, but the company is undercutting its claim to be a platform for 'free expression.'"
It is a good sign that YouTube's censorship of respectful and utterly nonviolent and nonsexual videos made it to The Wall Street Journal editorial page. It is a very bad sign that it had to. And it is a very bad sign that it made the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal but not that of The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times or any other mainstream newspaper that still purports to support the classic liberal value of free speech.
To understand what YouTube, which is owned by Google, has done, it is necessary to briefly describe what it has restricted access to.
Every week, PragerU (the generally used name for Prager University) posts at least one 5-minute video presentation online. These presentations are on just about every subject and are given by important thinkers — some very well-known, some not. The list includes dozens of professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Notre Dame, Princeton, Dayton, Boston College, Stanford, UCLA, Harvard, and West Point, among other universities; a black member of South African Parliament; comedians Adam Carolla and Yakov Smirnoff; two former prime ministers (one of Spain, and one of Denmark); Pulitzer Prize winners George Will, Bret Stephens and Judith Miller; Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs"; Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Arthur Brooks; Jonah Goldberg; Alan Dershowitz; Nicholas Eberstadt; Larry Elder; Steve Forbes; Walter Williams; Christina Hoff Sommers; George Gilder; Victor Davis Hanson; Bjorn Lomborg; Heather Mac Donald; Eric Metaxas; Amity Shlaes; Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British troops in Afghanistan; and many others. I also present some videos.
Any responsible person, left-wing or right-wing, would have to acknowledge that this is a profoundly respectable list of non-bomb-throwing presenters. It's hardly conducive to censorship.
YouTube placed restrictions on the following videos.
—Two videos on race: "Are The Police Racist?" and "Don't Judge Blacks Differently."
—Six videos on Islam: "What ISIS Wants," "Why Don't Feminists Fight for Muslim Women?" "Islamic Terror: What Muslim Americans Can Do," "Pakistan: Can Sharia and Freedom Coexist?" "Radical Islam: The Most Dangerous Ideology" and "Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists?"
—Two videos on abortion (the only two offered): "Who's More Pro-Choice: Europe or America?" and "The Most Important Question About Abortion."
—Two videos on Israel: "Israel: The World's Most Moral Army" and "Israel's Legal Founding" (the latter video, presented by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, was reinstated after much publicity).
—Three videos on America: "Why Did America Fight the Korean War?" "Did Bush Lie About Iraq?" and "What is the University Diversity Scam?"
—One on politics: "Who NOT to Vote For."
—And one on men and women: "He Wants You" (a video I present about men and women).
Think of these topics, and consider the list of presenters. Do you see any violent content or sexual content? Do you see anything you wouldn't want your minor child to view? The only possible "yes" might be to the video titled "He Wants You." Though void of any explicit content, it deals with the subject of men looking at other women yet most still wanting their own wives. It has almost 4 million views and has helped a lot of couples.
Obviously, then, the explanation is not that "algorithms" catch violence and sex. Rather, YouTube doesn't want effective conservative videos to be posted (each video has at least 1 million views). Does that mean that it has left-wing censors looking for every widely viewed conservative video? If so, it doesn't have to. Left-wing viewers simply flag our videos and others' as inappropriate, and YouTube does the rest.
I have never devoted a column to PragerU. But I have done so today because if YouTube gets away with censoring as big a website as PragerU — after a major editorial is published in The Wall Street Journal, after coverage in the New York Post, The Boston Globe, Fortune, National Review and many other places, and after a petition signed by over 70,000 people (which is on the PragerU website) — what will happen to other conservative institutions?
For the probable answer, see your local university.
The question, then, is this: Will YouTube do to the internet what the left has done to Prager University?