Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Worrisome news: A Cairo human rights activist and blogger, Wael Abbas, posted videos of torture by Egyptian police on YouTube. YouTube received some “complaints” about the material and responded by suspending Abbas’ account there, citing his material was “inappropriate.” One of these videos depicted the sodomy of a restrained political prisoner by police, and resulted in the conviction of the police officers involved.

“It’s the first time Egyptian people saw something like that,” Abbas said, referring to beatings and torture. “It was a shock to the Egyptian people.”

The blogger, who said he’s in a “state of shock” because he lost videos he’s uploaded for years, said he might resort to campaigning against YouTube.

“We thought that YouTube was our ally,” Abbas said. “It helped show the truth in countries like Burma. … With what they did now, it doesn’t seem like that anymore,” he said.


  1. #1 Tony P
    November 29, 2007

    This is why I don’t post important vids on YouTube. Their policy is idiotic.

  2. #2 Nathaniel
    November 29, 2007

    It was just plain stupid to only have copies of certain videos on youtube. Save them to DVD or something. On top of that, Youtube has very strict policies about what they can and cannot show… and sodomy is one of them. I’m with youtube on this one, the publisher should have realized it was against the rules and sought another service that would allow the video to be uploaded.

    It sucks, and I do agree that people needed to see the video. Obviously, the video was posted with the prisoner’s interest in mind. Obviously, it did some good showing it to people. But still… sodomy on youtube? Not a good idea.

    Now that I’ve said that. Let me also say that censorship is evil. The first thing you do to control the masses is to censor the kinds of information they have access to. It’s Nazi tactics like that which strangle society. However… youtube is privately owned, and thusly they have the right to do whatever they want with their site. So… I’m still on their side.

    We can’t take away the rights of the owners of youtube to dictate the content on their own site AND preserve the rights of the site’s users to post whatever they want. The fact of the matter is, as long as someone isn’t hosting their website on their own server, in their own building then there is going to be limitations on what they can and cannot show on their site. Sorry.

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    November 29, 2007

    Nathaniel: Its quite true, and valid to point out, that YouTube is a private company who can deem things inappropriate by whatever standards they choose. I suppose that my disappointment stems from YouTube not perceiving the social need for the video to exist, or to work with the author to edit them (to reduce graphic content) or remove the ones they had a problem with- instead of deleting the whole account. YouTube also has age-verification for ‘mature’ content…for example you can watch scores of dolphins being slaughtered in Japan during a cull, gutted alive and bled out. I always assumed that the reason that YouTube allowed a video of gross animal abuse and a high level of gore to remain on their site was the consciousness-raising/social activism of the video outweighted its potential to distreess viewers.

  4. #4 ebohlman
    November 30, 2007

    YouTube’s hands are tied by US law: if they host any video depicting a sexual activity (never mind that “disciplinary” sodomy is violence, not sex), they’re legally required to maintain proper documentation that all participants are at least 18, and they have to provide a street address at which any member of the public may view this documentation. That’s simply impractical for a free service.

  5. #5 kevin
    November 30, 2007

    But still… sodomy on youtube? Not a good idea.

    I think context has to be considered. This wasn’t about sodomy as a sexual act. This was a deliberate act of violence and degradation as a tool of political control and the rule of fear. Posting it to youtube was a way to bring it to the worlds attention and on that point it was successful

    hopefully some human rights organization can step forward and provide a hosting alternative for documenting crimes and abuse. I doubt though, that such a site would generate the traffic and interest that youtube can generate.

  6. #6 MemeGene
    November 30, 2007

    I find it sad that people were more upset about an “icky” video being on YouTube than the fact that THIS WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING somewhere in the world and is a terrible violation of human rights.

  7. #7 Abby Normal
    November 30, 2007

    This man is courageous, heroic even. What he’s doing for his country inspirational. So please keep that in mind and know that nothing I’m about to say is meant to detract from that.

    The way I see it this blogger made a promise when he agreed to YouTube’s terms of service. He then broke his promise. To now claim that YouTube is wrong for abandoning him seems a bit misguided.

    I agree that the video he showed was important. But so is honoring one’s word. He should have found a way to do both and he has no one but himself to blame for his current troubles.

  8. #8 DSK Samways
    November 30, 2007

    This doesn’t quite smack of the flagrant hypocrisy of Google’s workings in China. Such activities certainly need to be witnessed, and perhaps organisations like Amnesty International should launch a website for precisely this sort of coverage. Youtube on the other hand is abiding by a clear set of self-imposed standards and is not in any way acting contrary to its mission by banning the material recorded by this courageous fella. And as a previous commenter pointed out, there are strict laws regarding the publication of such images anyway.

    Regarding the material in question, it’s stuff like this that really drive a sharp stick through the eye of the moral equivalence that has been slowly creeping its way into western liberal circles of late. I’m fast losing count of the times I’ve heard a critic of this sort of abuse being branded culturally insensitive, chided with a reminder that, “We aren’t much better, so who are we to judge?”, or outright accused of being an imperialist neo-conservative. Enough to drive an Orwell liberal stark-raving bonkers, it is.

  9. #9 jvarisco
    November 30, 2007

    No one’s stopping him from getting his own site and posting the videos. It’s pretty clear that not taking down videos that explicitly violate YouTube’s policy (and in the case of sodomy also US law) would be a problem. If I had an explicit video of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and posted it on YouTube, should that stay up? YouTube is a venue for people to share non-offensive videos. It’s not a news organization, and it’s certainly not responsible for promoting a certain political issue.

  10. #10 Azkyroth
    December 1, 2007

    Two thoughts:

    First, it’s really not clear to me what bearing YouTube’s legal entitlements as the site host have on whether their actions here are worthy of criticism.

    Second, I can see removing the specific video as justified (putting some kind of warning-thing up front would be better), but suspending his account strikes me as either a gross overreaction by YouTube management on the advice of an uncommonly panicky PR person, or simply an appalling example of laziness on the part of whoever dealt with the problem (I wouldn’t be surprised if suspending a user’s account was easier to do in the software than finding and removing a specific video).

  11. #11 John
    December 4, 2007

    Having Youtube allow it would be preferable because of the traffic volume. And it seems hypocritical that it’s apparently still possible to watch Saddam being executed on Youtube.

    However there are sites available that encourage users to upload videos like this.

    Note: I found out about these sites by Googling for more information about this issue.

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