YouTube unveiled a new content moderation policy on Wednesday purportedly aimed at reducing public health misinformation—but Christian communicators should take note of the rationale for the new rule as described by YouTube’s Vice President for Trust and Safety, Matt Halprin.
On top of existing policies banning videos that make various unproven assertions about the COVID-19 vaccine, this new layer of enforcement bans videos that make skeptical claims about the efficacy of any authorized vaccines.
“We can imagine viewers then potentially extrapolating to Covid-19,” Halprin said in an interview with Bloomberg. “We wanted to make sure that we’re covering the whole gamut.” Halprin added that the real issue is not a video that relays an anecdotal experience but “when somebody then turns around and generalizes, ‘It’s not just about my child.’ Obviously there’s a line there.”
Halprin’s explanation reveals that YouTube’s “content” moderation policies are not limited to the content itself. They also aim to regulate intent of users (such as “generalizing” a personal experience) and reactions of viewers (such as “extrapolating” the meaning of information).
Any corporate policy that aims to manipulate the thoughts or beliefs of users should alarm Christian communicators. While social media platforms are protected under the law in their ability to moderate user-generated content, attempting to regulate the feelings and reactions of users is insidious corporate paternalism and an infringement on personal sovereignty and freedom of thought.
This rationale for censorship will neither start nor end with public health. Christians who speak out on biblical principles are often in the position of challenging cultural norms and advancing ideas not aligned with the corporate values of Silicon Valley. Policies aimed at making it difficult to disagree with “authorized” or “expert” opinion will throttle Christian teaching on a wide spectrum of issues. If the corporatist “imagination” of how users may think, feel, or react is the basis for content policing, there’s a new reality on the doorstep for religious speech—and Christian communicators can count on Silicon Valley to cast an unlimited net to capture “the whole gamut” of objectionable ideas.
“Content moderation policies that attempt to safeguard the public from having the ‘wrong thoughts’ are an assault on personal freedom and degrade the quality and diversity of the public conversation,” said NRB CEO Troy Miller. “It’s not hard to see where this road leads for religious free speech.”
With today’s rollout, YouTube is demonstrating an appetite for control over a domain that isn’t youtube.com: users’ minds, not users’ content.
NRB has no policy or official position on vaccinations. While individual NRB members have wide-ranging views on the subject, the association does not weigh in on the question of the personal choices being made with respect to vaccines.