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The Silicon Valley cyber-monopolies are a threat to free speech

May 29, 2020 at 1:28 am

Logos of Telegram, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are seen in Ankara, Turkey on January 12, 2020 [Raşit Aydoğan – Anadolu Agency]

Of the articles I have written so far this year, one of the most popular has been a piece I wrote in January for The Electronic Intifada, about an Israeli lobby operative’s bizarre video claiming to have “slaughtered” Jeremy Corbyn in the election.

During the winter holiday season, Joe Glasman of the inaccurately-named “Campaign Against Anti-Semitism” posted a peculiar rant to his social media, thanking his team of followers for participating in the campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

“The beast is slain,” Glasman ranted – Corbyn was “slaughtered”.

“We defeated him,” he claimed. “They tried to kill us,” he claimed, “but we won.”

Copied and reposted by outraged left-wing Labour activists, the video soon became an embarrassment for Glasman. The video, and what it shows Glasman saying, is quite strange. It’s quite possible that he was drunk while filming it. It may never have been intended for public consumption.

READ: Israel is a safe haven for criminals and terrorists

In any event, the original copy of the video was soon set to private. But it was too late for Glasman, as copies had already been made and were spreading like wildfire around the Internet.

Picking up on the story after the Christmas period, I made my own copy of the video and it was uploaded to The Electronic Intifada’s YouTube channel.

Only a few days later, YouTube removed it.

This was done after Glasman had made a copyright claim. It is of course true that Glasman owns the copyright on the video, having made it himself.

But both US and UK law permit the use of such clips under doctrines, respectively known as “Fair Use” and “Fair Dealing”.

In a nutshell, this means that the video itself was newsworthy – even more so after Glasman  prevented viewing of his original copy. So, therefore, it was perfectly legal for us to repost a copy.

It would have been impossible to convincingly report on it otherwise.

We filed a counterclaim explaining all this to YouTube. In the end, we won and YouTube restored our copy of the video – it can be viewed here.

But Glasman still managed to censor the video for two weeks (although we did upload it to other sites as backups), and suppress the YouTube copy’s viewing figures. Whether this was helpful to him in the long run seems questionable – his crude censorship efforts only helped to drive more interest in the story and keep interest in it running for longer.

READ: Israeli spy firm uses coronavirus cover to impose global mass surveillance

If the creeping censorship efforts of the big Silicon Valley social media monopolies is becoming more and more concerning here in the West, spare a thought for Palestinians in Palestine, subjected to the most authoritarian and unfair censorship by the likes of Google (the owner of YouTube), Facebook and Twitter.

A recent report by 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, sheds light on these disturbing practices. It focuses on YouTube and their bias against Palestinians.

7amleh spoke to Palestinian activists, journalists and other YouTube content creators with large numbers of views and subscribers. It found a litany of abuses by the firm against Palestinian rights.

The report concludes that: “Many of YouTube’s practices discriminate against Palestinian content. This includes locative discrimination, high surveillance, punishment through channel termination and blocking monetisation.”

The report also alleges racism and double standards by the social media video giant.

One Palestinian YouTuber interviewed for the report described their feeling that the very language that Palestinians use is in practice considered inherently suspicious: “I think that the Arabic language is under higher surveillance from YouTube in comparison to other languages… Our videos that have Arabic titles or subtitles were under more observation from YouTube.”

Another user performed an experiment: “I sent the same video which has been deleted from my YouTube account to my friend’s YouTube account in Europe… YouTube was fine with it… YouTube just kept it.”

READ: Jeremy Corbyn was defeated because he refused to defend himself against the Israel lobby

Another, a Palestinian journalist, noted that while the platform tolerates historic videos of Palestinian resistance, such as the throwing of stones at Israeli soldiers during the first and second Intifadas, videos of current Palestinian resistance are often censored. YouTube is: “Very keen to track any video which is related to recent Palestinian form of resistance,” he explained. He argued that the intention is to demobilise the masses: “By deleting current visuals and videos.”

The editor-in-chief of Al Quds News also argued that the platform has a double standard when it comes to what they define as violence. “Violence varies according to YouTube. For example, when YouTube sees a video of a Palestinian toddler killed by Israeli Army, they have issues with publishing it, but they are fine with promoting Israeli militarisation and videos of Israeli kids trained to shoot with guns.”

The term “terrorism” is another case in point. Terrorism for example is defined differently according to YouTube, as some of the human rights defenders were considered “terrorists”.

In their concluding recommendations, 7amleh suggests that YouTube should start to: “Uphold their terms of service in a non-discriminatory manner and ensure that their activities do not contribute to the human rights abuses of the Palestinian population.”

I fully agree.

With the recent appointment of an Israeli government censor to Facebook’s new so-called “oversight board”, times ahead on the Internet look tough for Palestinians and their supporters.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.