The Issues At Hand:
On June 14-17th in the Orlando area, there is a conference planned entitled “Make America Straight Again.” Revival Baptist Church’s Paster Patrick Boyle has been announcing and promoting the event on social media platforms, including YouTube.
Boyle is not at all hesitant to be open about the conference’s point and agenda and as he has stated in his announcement video on YouTube.
“We’ve chosen this place and time because this is their Gay Pride Week in Orlando and they’re gonna be out proud of who they are and daring someone to say something and we’re gonna go ahead and take ’em up on it. And this conference is going to be explaining our view, or rather God’s view, on it.”
Boyle continues on with announcing various pastors who will be in attendance and giving sermons on the topics.
This video is a shortened version of their original announcement video, which is where the real controversy lies. The original video included snippets of sermons from the pastors slated to speak at the conference in June.
These sermons included homophobic slurs, calls for violence against the lgbtq+ community, expressions of joy over the Orlando nightclub shooting at Pulse, and numerous other problematic statements such as suggesting gay men are more prone to abusing children. For about a month the video remained on YouTube flying under the radar. That is until the past 2 days.
The video has since been removed from YouTube thanks in large part to YouTube channel Mr. Atheist run by Jimmy Snow. Snow’s first video about this conference announcement does contain most of the pieces of the removed longer video including the sermon snippets that were problematic which is still up and available for viewing. You can see the statements made by the pastors which were classified as hate speech in this video.
In a move Snow himself has stated is uncharacteristic of his channel and of himself, he called on his fanbase to help get the video removed for violating YouTube’s terms of service regarding hate speech. He then asked that they help get the channel deleted entirely.
In the description of his first video about this video, Snow states:
“Good new and bad news all! The Good News, before even going live my patrons got to see this early and successfully got the channel pulled down as hate speech. The bad news: the video is still up on ANOTHER CHANNEL…”
After the release of his video to YouTube and his larger audience; the video posted to the other channel Snow mentioned was taken down; once again on the basis that it violated YouTube’s Terms Of Service involving hate speech. The new channel does, however, remain on the platform and has many other videos including the shortened version of their Make America Straight Again announcement.
The Controversy Involved:
The controversy being discussed on social media sites after both fans of Mr. Atheist and supporters of the MASA conference have reacted to the videos removed is a controversy we’ve all come to know too well. Is removing a video because of what the content creator is saying or doing in the video “censorship” or not?
Mr. Athiest (aka Jimmy Snow) has been getting massive amounts of responses about his video accusing him of censorship by requesting another creator’s video be removed, and continuing to advocate for the removal of the offending channels or uploaded mirrors of the original video. He created a second video defending his actions.
In his second video, Jimmy Snow addresses why he feels that his call to help get the videos deleted is not censorship, but in fact, based on terms of service everyone agrees to when signing up for YouTube.
In his second video Snow states:
“I have only gone after their videos on YouTube. I have not made the case they should be imprisoned. I have not suggested any kind of legal battle. I don’t know if there are grounds to do anything like that. What I did call for, was the enforcement of a company’s, a private entity, a company’s… Not the county… I called for the enforcement of their terms of service. And those are the grounds upon which these videos have been blocked and removed so far.”
This response video also addresses times when there are actual legal limits to free speech, such as making statements inciting violence.
“You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, and you can’t incite violence.”
” …When you say I censored them, you’re not entirely correct I have not silenced them. I have not taken down THEIR platforms, THEIR websites. I have simply asked for enforcement of Terms Of Services. Because the right to free speech is not the right to a platform.”
By the end of his video, Jimmy Snow again reiterates that he will continue to let his followers and fans know when the longer (and more problematic) video is up again, so they can assist in getting it removed. He also acknowledges there are parts of the YouTube TOS that he himself disagrees with, but understands that it’s part of using their services and they have the right to decide what is appropriate based on those terms.
What Specifically Does YouTube’s Terms Of Service State?
YouTube’s TOS is quite lengthy, as are all terms of service requirements for any platform. Their hate speech policy is very well detailed and includes examples of what they consider hate speech, which groups are protected, and the consequences of posting a video with hate speech.
Hate speech isn’t something YouTube is playing around with, and their policies even state a warning to their creators:
“…don’t post content if you think it might violate this policy.”
Having a video removed (or if the creator chooses to say “censored”) is spelled out as a clear action that will be taken if these terms are violated in any manner.
What Is Censorship, Really?
Censorship falls under our rights of free speech and what those rights are and aren’t when it comes to enforcement by the government. Hate speech, for example, is protected under your First Amendment rights. The government itself cannot censor hate speech unless it incites lawless actions.
The key point here is that censorship and free speech issues as they stand today are related to what the government can and cannot censor. They are not applicable to private companies like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc.
These companies are allowed to remove posts or place restrictions on what they will allow to be posted at their own discretion. This is not a violation of any censorship or free speech legalities. They all have terms of services that everyone agrees to before creating an account, and they are allowed to enforce those terms as they see fit.
Therefore, while it may feel like someone is being censored, it’s not true censorship. The removal of a post, video or even a whole channel is already something creators know could happen when they sign up. (If they read the terms of service carefully, which isn’t something everyone does.) The enforcement of terms of services creators agreed to is not a violation of any free speech rights.
Creators who are getting removed from platforms, and having posts/videos targeted for removal do not have any legal recourse when these things happen. They are using a company’s services and that company is saying their content is not welcome.
The affected creators/persons are not prohibited from continuing to spread their message. What they are prohibited from is using a platform that specifically states their content doesn’t follow the rules they agreed to at the beginning of their account creation.
What Does All Of This Mean?
As it stands it means removing content is not a free speech or censorship issue. Social Media platforms are businesses and as such have the liberty to state what they want to allow on those platforms. Much like the baker who refused to make a cake for a gay wedding having their right to do so upheld by the Supreme Court, social media companies can enforce their own rules at their discretion.
When you’re signing up to use a social media company’s services think of their TOS as a sign on the door. Instead of saying “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” social media platforms are saying, “Break Our Terms Of Service, No Content.”
If you’re a creator or consumer on social media, including YouTube, it’s your responsibility to know what you’re agreeing to. If having your content remain on a platform is important to you, spending time reading what you’re agreeing to before scrolling down and clicking “accept” should be first on your list of things to do each time you create a profile.
Terms of Service are not a violation of free speech rights or related to censorship in legal terms. You are free to say what you’d like, no one is taking that away. As Jimmy Snow succinctly stated, the right to free speech is not the right to a platform.