Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whither Goest Thou, YouTube?

Google has apparently gotten a wild hair up their collective corporate ass, and decided to enforce a mandatory real-names-only policy at YouTube, along with a strict G-rated policy which would ban all profanity. Their comment is that they want to "clean up" YouTube comments, and make it more "family friendly".

I'm reminded of a snippet I ran across in one of those wonderful old classic Science-fiction novels by Pournelle and Niven -

And so you would banish the four letter words,
whose meaning is never obscure. 
The Angles, the Saxons, those hardy old birds,
were vulgar, obscene, and impure.
And yet you take pride in the weaseling phrase,
that never quite says what it means.
You'd rather be known for your hypocrite ways,
than as vulgar, impure, and obscene.

For those who don't get the reference, remember that English is a blend of Old Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. Consider the fact that most of the words we consider vulgar, (a word which really just means "common"), are from the Old Anglo-Saxon. For example, take the "polite" words penis, vagina, and copulate. Now consider their "vulgar" or "profane" counterparts, cock, cunt, and fuck. The first three are all from Latin, probably via Norman French. The latter three words we inherited directly from Old Anglo-Saxon. When our English language was coming into being, the Norman nobility spoke one way, and their words were considered to be cultured and polite. The Anglo-Saxon commoners spoke another way, and their speech was considered to be "vulgar" or, well, common.

I have some real problems with this so-called "family friendly" policy, and to parents who endorse it, I would say this. They are your children. Not mine, not Google's, yours. Supervising them is your responsibility, not anyone else's. If you don't want your children getting in over their heads, then keep them in the shallow end of the pool, and pay some attention to what they are doing, rather than attempting to make someone else responsible for what is your job. Do not attempt to turn the entire online world into a kiddie pool.

I would also point out  that my experience with online games over the last eleven years has brought me into contact with a number of very young gamers. And every one of those young gamers, without exception, was astonishingly knowledgeable and sophisticated for his/her age. If it is your intention to keep your kids ignorant of the realities of life, you've been doing a piss-poor job of it.

I would also point out that there is no substitute for a parent that actually pays attention. The three universal laments that I hear from young gamers are these, "my parents don't care about me", and "my parents don't have a clue", and "they just ignore me except when they're yelling at me".

No internet filtering software will slow your kids down for more than 30 minutes. That's the absolute maximum time it will take them to look up and implement the means of circumventing it. Your kids know far more about editing Windows registry than you do, and they're fucking fearless. Remember, "the internet treats censorship as damage to the net, and re-routes around it". Your children understand that on an instinctive level, even if you do not.

In truth, I am more disturbed by this new policy, which Google has announced their intention to implement "soon", than I can really explain in my own words. YouTube, for all the comments section has frequently resembled one of those blue portable toilets on the last day of the county fair, after they've been baking in the summer sun for two weeks, has for years been a bastion of the online world. No, it hasn't been pretty, but freedom of expression never is. When people are free to say what they really think and feel, some of their utterances are going to be offensive to some other people. Know what? Tough shit. That's what freedom of expression means, being able to speak your mind, and if others don't like what you have to say, that's just too damn bad.

Sometimes, profanity is simply the best way to express yourself. Allow me to offer the following rather poignant example. Here is a video of the speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by Julian Assange. One of the first comments posted was this (note that I have reproduced the comment in all its semi-literate glory, complete with misspellings and multiple exclamation points)-


And the second most popular comment, with 37 thumbs-up in one hour, was a response to that -

Oh please, go fuck yourself you dumb, uneducated piece of shit. He and wikileaks exposed U.S. war crimes, you are the fucking terrorist!

Note that the first comment will be acceptable under Google's new rules for YouTube, while the second one will not. And yet the latter obviously encapsulates the visceral response of a majority of those viewers who cared to express an opinion.

Sometimes you need to be able to say fuck. Some people desperately need to be told to go fuck themselves.

EDIT: Following up two hours after I wrote this, I discovered that several of the comments have already been censored by YouTube. The two top-rated comments are gone from the top comments box; both the one I quoted above and the absolute top-rated one, which said "this man is a living legend".  If you look back to the last page, and the next-to-last page, they are still there, and still showing 45 and 53 thumbs up, but they've been voodoo'ed out of the top comments box, replaced by comments with a fraction of the number of votes.

This means that YouTube is now being edited not just for profanity, but also for political opinions. Think about it. The top-rated comment, which said simply that Assange is an international hero, has been censored. It contained no profanity, or anything else offensive, just a political opinion which was apparently judged to be unacceptable. So much for Google's unofficial motto, eh?

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