In a recent interview with the BBC, YouTube’s new managing director for the UK Ben McOwen Wilson said that online platforms such as YouTube cannot simply ban individuals based on government regulation as it can turn out to be online censorship.
In the recent past, YouTube has banned several conservative figures from its platform and has demonetized channels with varied different political beliefs. At such a point of time, it is quite ironic to see the company arguing about how it wants to stay aloof from banning individuals and doesn’t want to adhere to any guidelines that may potentially lead to online censorship.
McOwen Wilson said that people should be worried about, “decisions being taken in a darkened room by unnamed individuals about who gets a right to speak and to make their thoughts and views available to the public.”
Recent stirrings from senators and public polls would suggest that many people believe that kind of thing is already happening within YouTube anyway. It can only be assumed then that YouTube believes that censoring content should remain the right of YouTube and not the government.
McOwen Wilson’s comments regarding online censorship were tied to the UK government’s regulatory efforts. The Online Harms White Paper, a joint proposal from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office called for an independent regulator to enforce a “code of practice” for social media platforms and other internet companies.
The white paper was primarily proposed to regulate “hate speech” and online abuse. Jeremy Wright, the Culture Secretary, at the time of the proposal, said that the “era of self-regulation for online companies is over.” He also mentioned that online companies have failed to tackle abuse and harm online consistently.
Simply put, the Online Harms White Paper suggests that an independent regulator should establish rules and impose fines on any internet company or website that fails to adhere to the rules and regulations. The independent regulator will also have the power to ban or block sites if necessary.
YouTube’s UK Chief, while subtly hinting to the regulator proposed in the white paper, said that the UK citizens and internet users should be worried about unnamed individuals making decisions about who gets to speak or express their views online.
In the wake of a situation where online censorship might persist, McOwen Wilson said that YouTube will have to consider whether it would be “appropriate to continue to operate.” He quoted a few countries such as China and Sudan where YouTube is currently unavailable as they could not come to an agreement with their governments to keep YouTube free from censorship.
It can be understood that YouTube believes the Online Harms White Paper and its plan of action to be a form of online censorship which it doesn’t approve of. We will have to see what the UK government will decide with regards to the appointment of a regulator for enforcing the ideas mentioned in the white paper.