Controversy Over YouTube's 'Terrorist' Videos

Is Joe Lieberman stepping on the toes of Web entrepreneurs?

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Here's a story you might have missed because of the weekend.

The video-sharing service YouTube is banning submissions that involve "inciting others to violence," following criticism from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) that the site was too open to terrorist groups disseminating militant propaganda.

The company earlier this year removed some of the videos that Lieberman targeted, many of which were marked with the logos of al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. But the company refused to take down most of the videos on the senator's list, saying they did not violate the Web site's guidelines against graphic violence or hate speech.

Now that videos inciting others to violence are banned, more videos by the terrorist groups in question may be removed.

I'm not entirely sure what to think about this. On the one hand, YouTube's impact on popular culture and the Internet in such a short amount of time has been nothing short of stunning. We don't want that reputation sullied by relation to al Qaeda, so taking down this militant propaganda was probably a good move. On the other hand, this whole episode to me stinks of "censorship without law." We see this happen all the time—a politician raises a stink about a private party's use of speech, and the party decides it's not worth fighting that fight (or risking future regulation), so it backs off. A process like that was the genesis of the current movie-rating system. You can't say it's exactly a violation of the First Amendment, but it's certainly not in the spirit of free speech when the government uses nonlegislative power to pressure people into not talking.

If that's what is indeed happening here, it would set a terrible precedent for the treatment of Web entrepreneurs. But YouTube says that it banned the videos because Senator Lieberman "made some good points." Is that all that happened—what do you think?