The responsibility of knowledge in news

I tweeted a few minutes that I wish YouTube itself would be curating and featuring video from Iran because only it is in the position to know whether the video came from Iran and whether it is a duplicate. I said that YouTube has a responsibility in the news ecosystem. Andy Scheurer questioned that: responsibility? Good question. Isn’t YouTube just a host? Can’t it be agnostic as to interests? No, I don’t think so, because YouTube has unique knowledge it can add to inform the discussion (e.g., this video isn’t from Iran or it’s a year old or this video is unique from Iran today) and to not add that knowledge becomes irresponsible, no? YouTube can’t just make the information transparent so we can figure it out because it also has a moral responsibility to protect the identity of those who are putting themselves in danger by uploading the videos to inform the world. That means they are the only ones who can verify at least some information about the videos for our benefit. So shouldn’t they?

  • YouTube should hire some our of work journalists to verify this information. I wonder if any journalists have actually contacted Google to see if they can get this information. I wouldn’t bet any money on it.

  • *out of work

  • Joe LoRe

    As I tweeted to you before, I agree – and I really think that you tube can remain neutral while protecting uploaders and classifying videos under a certain category much like journos sometimes need to protect their sources, without taking a stance on the issues in the videos.

  • all of @anncurry sources of news are coming from Youtube – look at her latest Twitter posts – . Google has stepped it up with Google Translate in terms of the Iranian language which is a first step that could have been performed prior to #iranelection per Twitter; why can’t this happen NOW with Youtube with Video which speaks VOLUMES and avoids Google Translate completely – no translation needed.

  • Armin

    A company like YouTube should “curate” news?

  • First, YouTube gives the user the ability to add the geolocal to videos. is the api info.
    Also, open Google Earth, select Fly Thru Iran (make sure Layers ->Gallery -> YouTube is turned ON. You will get an overlay as you fly thru of user generated content. Here’s a screenshot if you are having trouble seeing it.
    I think it’s dangerous to force the geo feature on users. Another person, another time may want to reveal information without revealing the location.Youtube is a delivery service, it’s easy enough for us to pull the information into an information service, IMHO.

  • Your theory is that Google and its digital ilk have
    A. the capacity to produce and aggregate content and
    B. the ability to monetize that content so they should there have
    C. resources to verify that content as news.

    But Google can do much better at B by sticking to A without spending money on C. There’s absolutely no market incentive for them do the work of verifying information: they never claim to be doing so, therefore users aren’t going to walk away if they don’t.

    Instead, users expect journalists to do that work by taking the resources Google aggregates on YouTube!, for example, and combining them with our expertise to find out what is true. The problem is that the ad dollars will still be on the YouTube! page…

    • I think there is a simple market incentive to get more people more often. Granted, there may not be a lot of endemic advertising for Iran news footage … except for CNN, et al.
      My point is that the journalists can’t do it because they don’t have the data about origin the video and YouTube does.

      • Point taken re: the location, but I’m not sure they WOULD get more people by verifying the info, that’s my point. It’s unclear to me that consumers expect or demand that Google do that work, because Google never claims that media is its business, even if its control of all that content raises eyebrows.

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  • Nigel

    You say “YouTube has unique knowledge it can add to inform the discussion (e.g., this video isn’t from Iran or it’s a year old or this video is unique from Iran today)” but does it?

    Surely YouTube only knows the IP a video appears to have come from and when it was uploaded.

    The former tells us nothing about where the video was shot, or who by. A video apparently from Wisconsin could easily be being uploaded from Tehran through a proxy; a video apparently from inside Iran doesn’t have to have been taken there, or taken recently.

    The latter tells us nothing about when the video was shot; someone could easily upload video from months or years ago to take advantage of the situation and push their agenda.

    So YouTube publishing this information would be at best useless and at worst counterproductive by leading people to false conclusions.

  • Oh I found YouTube’s Iran video channel. <— CitizenTube. How’s that for curating?

  • watch this interview with youtube reps about the iran situation:

    youtube clearly has the capability to do exactly as you suggest (and more), they know not just where the video are coming from, but also how videos filmed in iran are getting routed though proxies outside iran and uploaded all over the world. i know you can open up google earth and looked at the video layer, (which you can do in google maps too), but when i do that I get a fraction of the videos showed in the cnn interview. there are thousands of videos. i’d love to watch more, but i am curently experiencing a filter fail. i fully acknowledge this could be user error, but i am a failry sophisticated computer user, so it’s *probably* not just me having this problem.

    • Nigel

      I watched that interview and it was clear to me that YouTube have no extra information about where a video comes from than is currently available – they’re simply relying on the users uploading the videos tagging them accurately with location information.

      Similarly they don’t know that uploads are being routed through proxies; they know that such proxies exist and they know that material claimed to be from Iran is arriving at YouTube from machines outside the country. The rest is supposition (logical and likely correct supposition, but supposition nonetheless).

      I’m still a long way from convinced that Jeff’s assertion that “YouTube has unique knowledge it can add to inform the discussion” stands up.

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  • You are falling into old media thinking. Youtube is a platform for the public to display videos. One can sort by date uploaded, key words, etc.

    The work of verifying, editing, etc. is journalism. I don’t see why Google or Youtube should try to be journalists. In fact, I see a lot of reasons they should avoid being journalists. Let the raw inputs flow and let all of us sort it out. If someone can get paid for sorting it out, more power to them.

    • You are missing the point. YouTube has information we don’t have. Only YouTube has it and I hope YouTube keeps it secret so as not to endanger sources. But it can analyze and use that information to our benefit.
      And who’s to say that YouTube cannot perform these functions. Journalists alone do not have license to them. I’ve been hearing from lots of companies in other industries who are going into the media business. YouTube is in the media business.
      You are the one falling into the trap of old media thinking, I’d say, because you’re saying that YouTube can’t perform an act – add a value – in the information ecosystem that used to be under journalism’s umbrella.

  • The person who posts on Youtube can provide as much or as little data as they want to on date recorded, sources, etc. The only thing Youtube knows is when it was uploaded and a username.

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  • Rob Levine

    This is really silly. The minute YouTube tried to “curate” anything, it would lose the legal “safe harbor” protection that lets it host copyrighted videos without fear of legal repercussions.

    “Don’t Be Evil” is a story for little kids and bloggers, Jeff.

    • Didn’t know you had a law degree, Rob.
      I don’t either. But I know that under Section 230, they are not responsible for content created by others – under US law – but they can link to whatever they like anywhere.

      • Rob Levine

        I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on TV. And, um, message boards. To wit:

        I wasn’t referring to Section 230 – part of the Communications Decency Act, which wouldn’t rule over copyright, so far as I know – but to “safe harbor” for copyright violations under the *DMCA*. Presumably that would be more of an issue for YouTube, since that’s its defense against Viacom’s lawsuit.

        The full text is available here –
        But one of the qualifications for safe harbor under the law is:
        *** the transmission, routing, provision of connections, or storage is carried out through an automatic technical process without selection of the material by the service provider ***

        You say:
        >>>I wish YouTube itself would be curating and featuring video from Iran

        Since “curating” (your word) would seem to involve “selection of the material,” I think this could be a potential problem.

        • If that were the case, Rob, YouTube wouldn’t have a home page and wouldn’t point to any videos today.

        • Rob Levine

          Actually, Jeff, I think the nature of YouTube’s home page is a great example of what I’m getting at! Much of what’s chosen is there because of the results of an algorithm – there’s very little human editorial control over the selections. If there were “selection of the material by the service provider,” that did not take place through an automated process, they would have had to give Viacom a lot of money already.

          The law I quoted makes this pretty clear. And your post makes it pretty clear that you don’t understand the law. You say, “Isn’t YouTube just a host?” According to YouTube’s legal argument in the Viacom case, IT IS JUST A HOST! If YouTube were to stop acting like “just a host,’ the hundreds of copyright owners whose rights it has infringed would have grounds for a lawsuit.

          Networks do not have the morals of newspapers. As you once said to me, welcome to the future.

        • But, Rob, they also have human-created pages, like the one on politics.

          “Networks do not have the morals of newspapers”? Oh, jeesh.

        • Oh, and I’m talking about videos of events in Iran of murder and revolution and I don’t think copyright is really an issue, especially because these good people are sending those videos to the YouTube you don’t like to try to get their message to the world. It’s no music video, Rob.

        • Rob Levine

          Hold on: I NEVER said that the events in Iran had _anything_ to do with copyright. I just said that YouTube was legally restricted in terms of how it operates. The minute it exercises human “selection of the material by the service provider,” it becomes vulnerable to lawsuits. This isn’t MY interpretation of how YouTube operates – it’s THEIRS, from the Viacom lawsuit!

          Incidentally, I also NEVER said that I don’t like YouTube. I just pointed out that you don’t understand the law. You decided that since I disagree with you, I must hate the future. Not true.

          I think YouTube is fascinating and I think its potential for journalism is significant. I’m merely explaining why YouTube is not doing what you want it to do.

  • Rob Levine

    >>>But, Rob, they also have human-created pages, like the one on politics.

    I don’t see that much editorial direction there. The closer YouTube comes to “selection of the material by the service provider,” the more likely it is to lose safe harbor protection. That’s pretty obvious if you read the law –

    >>>“Networks do not have the morals of newspapers”?

    Laugh all you want. But you can’t attribute “responsibility” to a video upload site that *by legal definition* cannot have any.

  • Jeff,

    When I initially caught your tweet, I wasn’t sure if I agreed with the concept of You Tube “curating and featuring” content because it is their “responsibility.” That’s why I asked the question — just because something (a business and platform in this case) is used by a community does that mean its managers are “responsible” to any one or any cause?

    I’m still not sure, but there has been some interesting conversation here about the issue.

    My gut feeling is that the NYT, Post, Guardian, etc. have the *responsibility* to collect, curate, and feature this kind of content… not You Tube. It is the news companies that SHOULD be doing this. Unfortunately, they can’t afford it and, unfortunately, their business models never have supported and probably never will support this.

    You Tube was never founded or built to be a news curator or source. While they have the ability to curate and feature the REALLY IMPORTANT content that does come in, the only ones related to You Tube that have a responsibility to curate/feature it are its users and/or community.

    In all seriousness: “What Would Google Do?” If I understood what you have said in your book and blog, they would do what they ARE doing. Providing the platform for the community, indexing and allowing us to search the content, but not imposing their own “features.” We don’t need You Tube to provide us the headlines and a “front page” ala any newspaper.

    Thanks for “featuring” my question – not sure if I should be honored, proud, happy, or just plain scared that Jeff Jarvis noticed 140 characters of mine, but I sincerely appreciate the conversation.


  • Rob and Jeff —

    You’re both right. On one hand, important and relevant content within a community should be organized and featured (which should be selected by “professionals”), but on the other, it shouldn’t be the community’s host or management selecting it.

    What if there was a way for the You Tube community to make newscasts, podcasts, and Harry-Potter-like online newspapers that uses You Tube content?

    Better question: How can our existing news businesses do this and make money?


  • For me, this quote from a recent AP article shows that Youtube and journalists can work together nicely.

    “Amateur video showed clashes erupting in the southern city of Shiraz and witnesses reported street violence in Isfahan, south of Tehran.
    Other footage posted in the hours after the crackdown showed blood pouring from a young woman’s nose and mouth as frantic people tried to help her. Two separate videos of the incident, each shot from a different angle, were uploaded onto the social networking sites Facebook and Youtube. The Youtube video described the location of the incident as Amirabad, central Tehran, and said the woman had been fatally shot.
    The Associated Press could not independently verify the content of the video, its location, or the date it was shot.”

    And yes, employees of Youtube can certainly decide to practice journalism. Seems like that would best be handled as a separate business to avoid the sort of problems that Rob Levine is pointing out.

  • But Jeff, last week you said that the responsibility was on the reader and not on the publisher. If there’s going to be a double standard, I’d think that platforms would be the ones getting the free pass not the writers and bloggers.

  • Your argument would push YouTube down a slippery slope…
    It is bad enough that YouTube already makes judgments about what is “inappropriate.” If they were also to make statements related to the “truth” “authenticity” or “originality” of content then that would be a very bad thing. The opportunities for abuse or for unintended impact on the open exchange of information would be too great.

    YouTube serves best by providing neutral access to content. The community of viewers serves itself best by providing its own (probably competitive) mechanisms for judging the qualities of that content.

    bob wyman

    • Good point (as usual). But what’s to say that YouTube using what it knows to feature the good and important – based on various factors – is not value it can add? That’s why I call it curating more than vetting. And that curation is, indeed, a journalistic function.

  • Sorry, Jeff – I’m in the “slippery slope” camp on this one.

    If the New York Times misrepresents/misquotes/mischaracterizes me, I have several options: I can rebutt their claims, I can demand a retraction/correction, I can even sue for slander.

    Platforms like YouTube can’t misrepresent me because I’m representing myself. As soon as they start “curating” videos, we lose our neutral platform and our much-heralded ability to “all be broadcasters” diminishes.

    Today, it’s weeding out fake/old/misleading video from Iran – not much controversy there. But what happens when they start curating video in the runnup to the next American election? Disallowing video based on it’s point of view, perhaps? Fact checking? If someone in Iraq or Afghanistan posts a video claiming that Obama is a muslim jihadist bent on destroying America, does YouTube have a “responsibility” to filter that out while protecting the identity of the sender? Or is our collective responsibility to shout it down?

    Would it be a nice gesture for YouTube to curate the Iranian videos right now, as a show of support for the Iranian people? Sure. And they could probably do so without running into Rob Levine’s DCMA concerns (e.g., provide a filtered page, but with links to the full content as well, so anyone can see anything). But are they RESPONSIBLE for doing so? If that argument were ever to take hold, I think the “mass publishing” nature of YouTube as we know it would cease to exist.

    Remember- the audience controls the content! We are all broadcasters! Power to the people, and all of that good stuff…

    • It’s a fascinating question. See also Bob Wyman’s argument that sharing information should be seen as a responsibility.