YouTube, Censorship, Satire and Democracy

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I grew up in the 80s and 90s; a time where many groups tried to label comic books, video games and music as badfun, and censor ideas these groups deemed dangerous or whatever. I still remember what it was like to grow up with parents who didn’t want me to watch The Simpsons or play Dungeons & Dragons. Now as an adult myself tasked with running a business that produces content my job is to help creators produce videos that some people are not going to enjoy or may even take issue with.

Every creator I have met while acting as VP of ThunderTV has asked me if we’re going to restrict their creative vision, and in every situation my answer has been no because I solemnly believe in things like artistic integrity. If a video does not violate YouTube’s Terms of Services or the law, I don’t believe I have the right to be the arbiter of someone’s content.

So it is with a very deep understanding ( and a lot of experience debating the subject ) that I wrote this article to explain why I do not agree with the efforts of some creators to censor one another.

Should artists try to censor other artists?

Generally speaking, liberal minded folk tend to support an individual’s right to express themselves artistically. But there are cases where they engage in witch hunts against others who express ideas they do not enjoy. Now everyone has a right to speak out about things they like and do not like — but where we should draw a fine line is in endorsing the censorship of these ideas we dislike.

Recently a comedian named Nicole Arbour posted a video that satirizes the body positive movement that is endorsed by many prominent YouTubers, and some of these creators spoke out against it, some going so far as to label it bullying or hate speech. There have been a variety of media articles about this, too. It’s a big trending topic getting discussed right now, and it reminds me of those days growing up and the subsequent debates in magazines, television shows and court proceedings. I also have not forgotten when school teachers confiscated my rap CDs or had problems with certain t-shirts I wore. Even as a child attending a private very religious grade school, I once made the mistake of bringing some Ghostbuster toys for show and tell, and the principal actually swatted me with a wooden paddle because he believed Ghostbusters was created by Satanists.

Again, my experiences growing up in a time of peculiar censorships that were deemed to benefit children is pretty ingrained into me and shapes my viewpoints on the matter.

Traditionally speaking if you wanted to work in entertainment you had to go through a number of closed gates to get in. You would study entertainment, often in college or through an understudy — an internship at an agency perhaps — so a lot of tribal knowledge related to the peculiarities of the American entertainment industry would be absorbed into talent over the years they hone their craft to be suitable enough to get past the gate keepers.

Today, because of the internet and platforms like YouTube where people need no longer go through the gate keepers, I feel a lot of talent does not know what they do not know — and doesn’t recognize some of the ideas they hold dear are actually not at all in their best interest. One of these ideas is the concept of censoring artists; no artist wants to be censored, yet some artists think it’s okay to lead a witch hunt against other artists in effort to censor those messages they disagree with.

I remember when witch hunts were waged against Marilyn Manson and Dr. Dre, and how traditional media industry circled the wagons around these artists to protect their legal right to express themselves creatively — even if the more traditional actors and musicians completely disagreed with the messages in the music by these more edgy, younger folk.

Why would any artist lend any support to another artist whose messages contradicts their own? The answer is simple: censorship of one artist is bad for all artists. It is a dangerous road we traverse when we start impulsively deciding who is allowed to artistically express themselves and grow a business around those creative works — and who is not.

Endorsing the flagging of anyone’s YouTube channel in effort to deprive a creator of their ability to monetize hurts all creators. You are creating exceptions to an otherwise nigh-invulnerable and legally protected right — freedom of speech. The very right which allows for the kind of movements like positive body image, gay rights or legalization of marijuana to exist at all.

Furthermore, in this specific case of Nicole Arbour, her video is galaxies more tame than the kind of material George Carlin did about fat people. Yet there is no crusade to remove George Carlin’s videos from YouTube. It is confusing to me on why Nicole was targeted, as a quick Google search reveals there are many videos that make fun of over-weight people on YouTube.

Regardless of why Nicole was targeted, the fact remains is that she was. Even if temporary, her channel was revoked and she lost the ability to conduct the business she had built around her channel. So what ramifications does this have for other creators? Does this set a precedence for the future that creators who express unpopular opinions that, while not breaking any laws or YouTube’s Terms of Services, will be punished if enough creators are upset and direct their passionate fanbases at those creators who upset them?

I cannot tell creators what they should and shouldn’t be offended by. But I feel obligated to point out if they can successfully censor another creator then it means someone else can turn the tables back upon them, too. And that is good for no creator.

Now let’s talk a little about why, as a society, we don’t want to see anyone get censored over a satirical comedy sketch.

Like George Carlin, Nicole’s bit is centered around the excesses of our society and tendency to over-indulge. She also touches on how political correctness is becoming mis-used. Her bit has been labeled as “hate speech” by some, but “hate speech” is not merely someone saying something you do not like; it is more than just bullying, it specifically requires intimidation and threats of bodily harm.

Nicole’s bit is not in the slightest bit bullying, as bullying is a form of harassment. Harassment requires repetitive unwanted communication, and as her video is not aimed at any specific person but is instead one out of a lot of different topics she has done comedy video bits about. I do not believe it is bullying or harassing in nature.

 

Do we have the right to police satire?

This is what I believe: Nicole engaged in satire to point out some of the irrational aspects of the Body Positive movement. Namely, she pointed out obesity causes many health problems that would otherwise be avoided, and that the number of calories people consume each day is entirely within our own control. She made the same arguments that many respected comedians have made, even if she presented the arguments in a different chain of thought.

Does Nicole not have the right to express her point of view? Do we as a democratic society want to prohibit people’s right to express viewpoints that are meant to highlight flaws in institutions we hold dear? 

I am entirely disappointed in this generation of entitled children who seem to think that because they have large followings they can dictate what other people make videos about and send their fanbases to harass other YouTubers who make videos they don’t like (for whatever reason) even though they were only able to find their own successes due to the very right they would like others to not be able to use. I realize not all creators do it, but there is enough of it that channels like Nicole’s get flagged for takedown. The problem is self-evident and very real. 

Many great entertainers have fought long, expensive legal battles to ensure the entertainers of today are able to exercise their freedom of speech. It is not a right that any single individual can decide who else can exercise, it is enshrined in the First Amendment and backed up by dozens of court cases. If someone makes a video you do not enjoy, the best way to not show your support is to stop watching it. It’s not to engage in a witch hunt that will only hurt the entire community of artists — potentially for generations to come if this habit gains momentum. 

So long as it does not violate the law or break YouTube ToS, you have no right to attempt to dictate what others make videos about — just as they have no right to dictate what you make videos about. The very concept of democracy is predicated on people’s right to be able to say things that will upset others in order to debate the differing values to determine that which is most beneficial to society. You cannot have these debates if viewpoints are silenced. 

Why should we protect satire?

Without our right to free speech, we do not have a democracy. We don’t have a community; we would only be left with the tyranny of the majority.

A course in Western philosophy — especially covering Voltaire — ought to be mandatory for schools so that people start understanding your rights end where another person’s begin. 

Even if you disagree with what Nicole said in her video, you should support her right to make that video. Her satire has caused additional conversation about the topic. That is what satire does, and it’s why it is a protected form of speech.

Additionally, from what I gathered in her video, she is satirizing the idea it is okay for people to dismiss the very real physical health implications of being obese and prioritizing only how people emotionally feel. By ridiculing people’s emotions and fixating on the physical realities of being obese and how it disadvantages one’s life, and how many in the Body Positive movement accommodate these disadvantages , she is engaging in satire. It is a textbook example of satire, actually, because unlike the satire of things like video game mechanics or the latest movie, the things she is pointing out as problems have true implications in people’s lives.

Even if I disagree with the viewpoints she expresses or the manner in which she expresses them, it does not stop me from seeing what she is doing in her satire or understand the purpose. I believe too many people have focused on the meanness of the statements, but looked past that the situations she describes are in fact based in truth.

Do people have a right to have videos removed if they hurt their feelings?

This is what I know.

I used to do video game reviews and made fun of elements of those games. And certain individuals decided to troll me for months, going as far as click bombing my channel in an effort to cause me to lose my partnership, and they also used flag bots to bombard every video on my channel.

Apparently I hurt their feelings so badly by ridiculing something they loved, that they decided to try to use loopholes in YouTube’s review systems to cause me to lose the business I had created.

Due to their actions I made the choice to turn ads off my videos for 3 months as I waited for the trolls to lose interest in my videos. I also stopped making videos. This period of inactively had a horrible affect on my channel growth, from which I never really recovered years of invested time and money I had put into my gaming channel.

So I am very familiar with people taking an extreme reaction and trying to take “justice” into their own hands over something that was never intended to cause the distress they claim. Due to my own experiences I take the position that one person’s rights end where another begins. We cannot have a democracy if some people are deemed to be more important than others, and their importance trumps another person’s right to engage in the same.

 

If there are some YouTubers who take issue with what I say, because I will not support the censorship of a creator they dislike, I can only say this: would you prefer MCNs become the arbiters of your content, and dictate to you what kind of videos you are allowed to make?

I doubt you would, which is I believe very passionately that we should not. It is a dangerous road to go down.

If it was a common practice to censor YouTube channels based on what ideas are popular or unpopular, YouTube would cease to be a community driven platform. It’d end up being a majority rules situation; a tyranny of the majority. And that has never worked out well for human society.

Did these YouTubers intend for there to be censorship?

Whether intentional or not, all the attention focused on the video resulted in a case of censorship — satire was removed due to a large volume of flagging that would not have occurred if the video didn’t have as much negative attention aimed at it as it did.

Had this video been a satire about a politician that is unpopular among the more liberal minded creators (like perhaps Trump), I doubt it’d have received this kind of reaction. Yet structurally Nicole did nothing different than in a political satire; she pointed out the irrational aspects of the Body Positive movement. That is what satire is about.

You can’t claim some satire is goodfun and others badfun, and expect to police it properly because human beings all take things different ways — and to different extremes. Which is why it’s better to adopt a policy of recognizing you as an individual should not police what others say, you can only control what you say in response.

The rest is for the legal court system to work out, not the court of public opinion which often gets the facts wrong due to lack of a proper review process.

But Nicole said mean things! That’s wrong, right?

Nicole has a legal right to express her viewpoints using the rhetoric she chose in her video. That you believe she expressed them inappropriately is a matter of opinion not based in fact nor supported by the laws of the country that YouTube is based out of and has to abide by.

Also: Satire has been deemed in numerous court cases to be of significant value to society because it allows for the exploration of ideas by ridiculing institutions such as individuals of influence, governmental bodies or even beliefs we hold important. Satire is often an effective means to explore these ideas and point out their deficient. So I cannot support the idea it is never okay to engage in satire nor that we should restrict people’s right to engage in it. The right of individuals to engage in satire is part of what makes a democracy work.

She’s just doing sensational things to get views. Isn’t that wrong?

I think there is such a thing as high art and low art, and it is up to us as individuals to decide which kind we want to consume, and which we prefer to consume. Historically speaking a lot of the art we now cherish was originally considered to be very low brow — like comic books and video games, ya know?

Besides, the point of making videos is for other people to watch them. It is odd to hate on a creator for being successful at getting people to do that.

You weren’t offended because you’re not fat, right?

I am actually overweight. I am legally regarded as disabled as well, with a 70% disability rating from the VA so it is very tempting to think to myself that I have an excuse to be overweight.

I was not alarmed by the video. In actuality it forced me to re-examine the lifestyle choices I have made in regards to my disabilities. I know I am over-weight because I choose to not do things like jog anymore, or eat a lot of fatty, greasy (and delicious) foods.

Yes, I have very real health problems for why I don’t work out like I should, but I have no excuses for the amount of calories I consume and if I was willing to make sacrifices in my current lifestyle, I know that I would lose weight. Seeing videos like this forces me to undergo this series of self-assessment, which is why I believe it is okay to make this kind of satire that really hits home that there are things I could be doing to lose weight.

Honestly, I am much more offended at how easily people throw around terms like bullying, harassment and hate speech, and demand removal of videos that would never be regarded as such in a court of law. This isn’t the country I enlisted to serve, and I think as a country we can be better than this.




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  • I was looking for some information about censorship and found your article fascinating. However I watched a live event on Facebook today – along with about a thousand others – a broadcast of George Carlin clips. I am a big fan of Carlin so I re-watched for the umpteenth time his diatribes on government, particularly resonant in the current political climate. I shared the link, as did my flatmate and her sister and commented throughout, enjoying a lively debate, not only with lovers of his work, but with those who were discovering him for the first time, some of whom were angry at the anti-religious tone, but also those who recognised a truth they may not so eloquently express themselves. The tone never turned nasty and the footage is all widely available, as you assert, on YouTube.

    One person watching made an odd point. He suggested that Facebook would remove this content. I noted this, but thought it strange as I had never had a problem finding archive footage of Carlin. About half an hour I examined my profile on Facebook and saw that the event, all the comments and footage had been removed. It never happened!

    I am not sure why Carlin is being deliberately blocked on Facebook. I understand he deals with some adult themes, but I have never had problems with sharing footage of other controversial figures, and as somebody who is an adult and has adult friends is no stranger to alternative ideas and colourful language.

    George Carlin is an inspiration to many, and is not so obscure that he offers opinion that veers into the ridiculous. I am not suggesting there is a ‘conspiracy’ to keep him silenced, after all the internet is where I learned about him in the first place (I am British). However there seems to be enough anecdotal evidence as well as my own personal experience tonight to conclude that clips of Carlin are being deliberately targeted for deletion by Facebook.

    I wondered if you might have any thoughts other than that I may be reading too much into things in a world where lies, fiction and censorship have become the holy trinity of media, both traditional and social.

  • It could be removed due to a copyright complaint, but given the amount of copyrighted content on Facebook that is never removed it is entirely possible it was removed due to someone complaining about his skits offending them.

    The problem is that there’s a generation of people working at tech companies who think censorship is okay as long as they can justify it with moral outrage, but they forget all censorship is based on someone’s moral outrage.