YouTube services hit by censorship

YouTube saw its services in Pakistan, the UK, Germany and the US cut off for much of Sunday after Pakistan’s Communications Ministry ordered it to be shut-down for carrying blasphemous content. While the ban was meant to cover Pakistan, a mistake in reconfiguring the routing protocol led to the site being unavailable in other countries. YouTube is no stranger to censorship – Thailand banned it last April for harbouring a clip of the country’s King made to look like a clown and the authorities in Turkey and China have also tried to get it shut down.

Whether it be state censors, celebrities or those caught on camera in a compromising position, YouTube poses an ever present threat but if the scenes that provided the material didn't exist in the first place then there would be less to be scared of. What YouTube essentially provides is a forum for visual free expression. In this sense it should be regarded in the same way as text-based content and afforded some free expression. There is a subtle yet all important distinction between appropriate regulation and censorship. Regulation defines what are acceptable social norms and what complies with legislative and other rules.

The difficulty is that when it comes to the online environment regulation has been developed in line with traditional broadcast rules and has not kept pace with the technological capabilities that allow anyone to be their own movie producer. There needs to be more debate and engagement between state and its average YouTube using citizens - rather than just media - to set some parameters for what is deemed acceptable. An online video exposing the likes of Paris Hilton may offend her but not corrupt or offend society as a whole, while snuff-type or extreme sexual videos will do.

So while YouTube's services may have been accidentaly cut in various countries following Pakistan's censorship, it highlights the risk that any form of censorship carries. There is still much work to be done to define and refine regulation of net based and user generated content driven sites.

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