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Anti-Obama Filmmaker Alex Jones Cries YouTube Censorship

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, July 22 2010

Ben Smith reports that the removal of a provocative Sarah Palin post on the building of a mosque and Muslim community center near the former World Trade Center site has Facebook reviewing how content gets removed from the site, either through an "automated system" or the result of user complaints. In the post, since reinstated, Palin calls building the center so close to the site of the 9/11 attack "a tragic mistake."

Getting somewhat less press attention but a noteworthy amount of online interest this week: a complaint by radio host Alex Jones, a self-described leading figure in the 9/11 Truth Movement, that YouTube has been blocking access to his posted videos, some of which have accumulated a considerable number of views; "The Obama Deception," a two-hour film making the case that President Obama is window dressing for "an attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery," has gotten more than 6.6. million views. Down for a time, Jones' video is once again available on YouTube.

When asked, Victoria Grand, a spokesperson for YouTube, described for me how the site's content is monitored and managed. "We have an innovative community policing system using a flagging system," said Grand, "where members of the community flag videos that they believe violate the YouTube community guidelines and bring them to the YouTube team's attention for review."

Those YouTube community guidelines are heavy on the community aspect. "We're not asking for the kind of respect reserved for nuns, the elderly, and brain surgeons. We mean don't abuse the site," reads the site. "Every cool new community feature on YouTube involves a certain level of trust. We trust you to be responsible, and millions of users respect that trust. Please be one of them." YouTube asks users to flag content if it falls runs afoul of the community standards in certain areas, spelled out by the company, which include "shocking and disgusting" content and hate speech.

A single "flag" by a user is enough to kick the video over to a human reviewer. From there, "if the YouTube team determines that the video does violate the guidelines, the video is removed. If it doesn't," YouTube's Grand said, "the video remains on YouTube." Content creators whose videos are removed are notified by the company. YouTube company policy is to refuse to comment on particular videos. There's no evidence at hand that the company pulled down Jones' material in this case.

(A New York Times story earlier this week described the effort it takes to monitor the 24 hours worth of video that floods onto the site every minute. Because of the nature of their work, YouTube's human reviewers "are given only yearlong contracts and access to counseling services.")

Jones' YouTube complaint is part of his on-going, multi-layered engagement against Google and YouTube. He recently called on radio listeners to drive up search terms including "Google spies" and "Google launches cover up" that lead to his online properties, including a site called Infowars.com (the tagline of which is, fittingly, "Because There's a War on for Your Mind"). Jones has also attempted to game Google by titling posts on his campaign with references to "Top Secret America," a Washington Post investigative series that has been getting its own share of online attention this week. The desired result, Jones has said, is that "a snowball effect ensues and millions of people all over the world are more likely to be directed toward the story." A request for comment was made through Jones' advertising email address, but wasn't immediately answered.

Complaints about Google's power as an information platform, and its connections to the Obama administration, seem to be on the rise. Consumer Watchdog, you might remember, has been hitting Google hard on related grounds. And the New York Times editorial board recently raised the specter of "search neutrality," taking issue with Google's unrestricted ability to shape who ranks where in the company's search results.

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