Sunday, March 14, 2010

a practical world

Do I dare call Martin Sherrard, who is named in the SMH (Sydney Morning Herald) article "Sorry Google, but the buck must stop with you" a journalist? While our positions may vary, perhaps I should start by thanking Mr Sherrard for bringing up this topic.

The article starts rather nicely with the writer thinking out loud that "must be missing something". The answer is yes.  He is missing something. While I will not defend Google for taking as long as they did in taking down the video after it was reported (if they indeed take two months to take down the video), I must say that the analogy of "publishing" does not apply online. The writer sounds more like a crybaby than a journalist than anything else when he repeatedly says that a new medium still has to follow the rules of the old media. 

Let us see what his commentators had to say about the discourse. In the comments, BHK called the article "a mouth-frothing rant rather than reasonable discourse". Another commentator, Mike, makes a very strong analogy—self-publishing. I believe what he says is relevant enough for me to cite here in its entirety. He says: 
Martin, to use your own example - while publishers may be responsible for the content they publish, are the printers? No.
This is the analogy you should be using. Youtube is the equivalent of the printer of a magazine. They are not liable for what the magazine publisher puts in their magazine - only the publisher is.
Youtube goes even further than a printer in that they remove offensive content if they are made aware of it. Do you think the printer of a magazine would refuse to print an article if they believed it to be inappropriate? No.
The conviction of the three Google execs in Italy is outrageous and the entire world needs to make its distaste for it known in no uncertain terms.
The article closes saying "You live in our world, Google. We don't live in yours." BillR in the comments says "I would add to it and point out to Ray that we also don't live in America's world." Well, guys. Welcome to the Internet! It is your government's choice to decide what it allows in your country. I said earlier that a two-month window between reporting and take-down, if true, is unacceptable. However, you have to decide whether you want a mostly free Internet or a subset of it as your government sees fit. (If you really believe this article can cause national panic and widespread instability for any nation, I have nothing to say.) 

Where I agree with the authors is that rights without responsibilities just does not exist. Even The Pirate Bay— champions of unrestricted free speech—moderates its website. Here's the Google cache for the blog post and I quote: "Our moderators work on all the reports we receive from the public and they contact ECPAT or other organisations if they found suspicious stuff."

Shifting the burden from the original publisher to the platform can have devastating consequences. If Youtube is guilty of hosting the video (as opposed to taking too long to comply and remove the video after they were asked to), aren't youtube's content delivery network (CDN) partners liable to police their own data servers as well? By extension, aren't your CDN partners liable to the contents on the SMH? If yes, should your content delivery network start regulating whatever is being published on your website? Should your ISP be liable for your publications? After all, the information was momentarily present in their network. Say good bye to hard-hitting journalism. Circumstances would prevent some controversial articles to ever be published. This would never happen again. Liberals would lose. McCain's videos would get pulled off the Internet for ridiculously invalid reasons. Conservatives lose. In fact, no one will win from the position that the writer advocates.

Would it be nice to ensure that everything on Youtube met the community guidelines and Youtube's own terms of service as well as disparate laws worldwide? Sure, it would be nice. However, it is not practical to monitor every single video as it uploads to youtube. We live in a practical world. Do you?

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