Google told Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to pound sand Monday -- politely, of course -- after the Senator called on Google to remove all "Internet video content produced by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda" from YouTube.
"YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds," Google said in a statement on its public policy blog.
The former Democrat Lieberman -- what we here in Idaho would call a "DINO," or Democrat in Name Only -- had called on Google to remove all videos tagged with an Al-Qaeda logo, including those depicting "weapons training, speeches by al-Qaeda leadership, and general material intended to radicalize potential recruits" -- as well as ones showing injury or death, which do not comply with YouTube's Community Guidelines and which Google said it had indeed removed.
In fact, Lieberman's action may have served only to call more attention to the videos than they might have received in the first place (aka "The Streisand Effect"). To quote one of the Electronic Frontier Foundation pioneers, John Gilmore, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it," and even the threat of Google removing the videos may result in people mirroring them to ensure that people continue to have access to them.
It's going to be interesting to see the next shoe drop on this one. Google is obviously working under the "free speech" tenet, described by Justice Stephen Breyer as 'The remedy to bad speech is not less speech. It's more speech.' "sers are always free to express their disagreement with a particular video on the site, by leaving comments or their own response video," Google said.
But Google is taking a risk in doing so. In this brave new post-2001 world, free speech is not always free, and the repercussions are serious. Federal legislation, starting with the so-called PATRIOT Act, has defined overly broad terms for 'aiding and abetting terrorism,' and with increasingly heavy penalties for doing so.
"There remains substantial controversy about the breadth of the 'material support' offense because a conviction requires only that the government show the individual 'knowingly' gave assistance to an organization designated as a terrorist organization, even if the assistance was only for the organization's lawful activities," said the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative counsel Timothy H. Edgar, at a hearing on the "Tools to Fight Terrorism Act of 2004." "The government argues that a defendant may be convicted even if he did not know of the designation, believed the assistance would support only charitable activities, and even if the assistance in fact only benefited charitable activities," he went on to say.
Google is not just whistling Dixie here, but genuinely standing up for their convictions -- in the sense of personal beliefs. Let us devoutly hope that it doesn't result in convictions of the other kind.