Earlier this week I received a message from my FaceBook friend Thomas Milo, a recognized world expert in Arabic typesetting. Thomas was passing on a link to a video on YouTube ,which gave some interesting statistics about Amsterdam as a rebuttal to a recent segment by Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.
O’Reilly – who is not one of nature’s liberals – was joined on the segment by a couple of women “experts” who looked like The Stepford Wives. All three claimed that liberal policies had turned Amsterdam into a cesspit of drugs, gangs, crime and corruption.
Didn’t sound much like the Amsterdam I knew. I traveled on software business to just about every European capital in the late 1980s and 1990s. Amsterdam had seemed like a peaceful, relaxed place. You could walk the streets at night without fear. Had things changed that much in ten or fifteen years?
Well, no, according to the rebuttal, which was a completely innocuous video showing people walking round Amsterdam, or traveling the city’s canals on barges. It’s combined with some interesting statistics which show how much worse crime and the drug problem are in the USA than Holland. The whole thing is so innocent you’d happily let your two-year-old watch it…
The first time I visited the Youtube link, the video played with no problems. It was pleasant, factual and convincing. Then Thomas posted another FaceBook comment, claiming that it had been “sabotaged”. Huh?
I went back for another look. This time, Youtube had put up an advisory notice that “this video contained material that might not be suitable for under-18s”. To watch it, I had to sign in to my YouTube account and verify my age.
That’s the trouble with the kind of “user community self-censorship” that’s used on sites like Youtube: it’s wide open to abuse, since any content can be anonymously flagged by any user, and thus easily and effectively handicapped.
I have no political axe to grind here. I’m neither a liberal, nor a conservative. I tend to make up my mind on individual issues rather than taking any polarized stance. What scares me is that it’s so easy for any unscrupulous user or group of users to behave like the Thought Police, and use flagging as a political or propaganda weapon. You have to be pretty insecure in your beliefs if you can’t allow dissent. Or else you believe you’re fighting a “just and holy war” for the hearts and minds of US TV viewers, in which The End Justifies The Means (and we’ve heard that one before…).
Remains to be seen whether Youtube, or its parent, Google, can or will do anything about it. At the very least, maybe someone should go in and flag O’Reilly content as “inappropriate for users with a mental age greater than seven”…