February 28, 2018
Censorship can be a full time business -- just ask Google. The parent company of YouTube has a virtual army whose sole job is to flag content that they think is inappropriate. Back when this "flagging" program was announced in 2014, YouTube explained that it has a "zero-tolerance policy" on any videos that "incite violence." There's just one problem: who decides what's doing the inciting?
"Our review teams respond to flagged videos around the clock," the company said, in a tone that was meant to be comforting, "routinely removing videos that contain hate speech or incitement to commit violent acts. To increase the efficiency of this process, we have developed an invite-only program that gives users who flag videos regularly tools to flag content at scale." Lately, as more and more conservatives find themselves on the losing end of political correctness, people want to know: who are these invited flaggers.
This week, the Daily Caller identified one of them that might surprise you -- the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC, who's fallen out of favor with almost any organization that cares about its reputation, has apparently found a home at YouTube, filtering out (shutting down) conversations it considers "hateful," which, based on its prior, reckless labeling, could include anything from House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Now, I don't know about you, but an organization that's inspired at least two gunman to shoot conservatives, isn't exactly who I'd trust to define violent speech.
For the longest time, Google was able to keep the identities of its "super flaggers" anonymous. It even went so far as to demand non-disclosure agreements, so that their sources would never come under public suspicion. They don't have that luxury now that reporter Peter Hasson has dropped the mask on one of its most controversial participants. Although no one knows when SPLC joined the program, they do know what it means for conservatives: discrimination. After all, mainstream Christians, conservatives, churches, and organizations have found themselves recklessly and fraudulently labeled under SPLC's definition of hate (which they include as any belief that's contrary to theirs).
Hasson explains that a lot of YouTube's policing is done by algorithms that search for certain words or content.
"The algorithms," he points out, "make for an easy rebuttal against charges of political bias: it's not us, it's the algorithm. But actual people with actual biases write, test and monitor the algorithms. Google's anonymous outside partners (such as the SPLC) work closely with the internal experts designing the algorithms. This close collaboration has upsides, Google's representatives have said, such as in combatting terrorist propaganda on the platform. But it also provides little transparency, forcing users to take Google's word that they're being treated fairly."
This is particularly worrisome, Bloomberg explains, "given the increasing tendency of powerful tech companies to flex their muscle against hate groups. We may see more and more institutions unwittingly turned into critics or censors, not just of Nazi propaganda, but also of fairly mainstream ideas." For conservatives, who've watched SPLC try to turn conventional beliefs into grounds for government punishment, these developments are more than a little troubling. Fox, meet henhouse. Making matters more interesting, while everyone else -- from the FBI and U.S. Army to Obama's Justice Department -- backed away from SPLC (either for its ties to domestic terrorism or for its dangerous extremism), Google seems to be embracing a group whose tactics even Politico called "a problem for the nation." The last organization anyone should be relying on for neutrality in the public debate is Morris Dees group.
As for Google, YouTube may be a private entity – but it's virtually monopolizing the public square. And with that responsibility comes a higher expectation that civil conversations will be allowed. Just because Google -- or its flaggers -- disagree with someone doesn't meant they should shut them down. This growing understanding that Big Tech is picking and choosing who can speak in the virtual public square may help explain why there's been a jump in the number of Americans who want to see more government regulation.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.