As a child of the Reagan Revolution, I have always found Dennis Prager to be a leading light for moral politics to my generation. I have read his books, listened to his radio show, and followed his commentary on a host of outlets, including YouTube.
So it is with great respect for Mr. Prager’s contributions that I disagree with the premise of his lawsuit accusing YouTube of discrimination against the content of Prager University for ideological reasons.
In 2016, I ran the data and digital operation for the Ted Cruz for President Campaign and YouTube was one of our most important tools. This experience leads me to the conclusion that this issue is much bigger than a dispute over the content of 50 of Prager University’s videos.
This is about conservatives complaining about ideological discrimination under every Internet rock, giving credence to the call on the Left for regulation of content providers like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter (among others).
The facts of the Prager U lawsuit deserve attention. Fifty Prager U videos on YouTube have been tagged for restricted mode. YouTube has argued, and the courts recently agreed, that this was done according to the company’s content guidelines.
But all YouTube videos are rated. The ratings categories are consistent with the parental ratings guidelines established by the television industry. Ratings guidelines correspond to users’ general expectations for content.
This is critical to parents. As the father to two boys, and a technophile, I would submit it is increasingly difficult to monitor their viewership and online activity. Being able to control their content through a restricted mode setting is critical. It means I don’t have to constantly monitor programming for sexual content, offensive language or serious subjects appropriate only for adults.
If YouTube, or its parent company Google, has an ideological bent against conservatism, then it’s hard to explain the treatment of Prager U videos compared to that of other channels.
While 12 percent of Prager U videos are restricted, video content from liberal content providers is even more restricted. For instance, YouTube has restricted access to 14 percent of videos from Huffington Post, 28 percent from Vox.com, 46 percent from Democracy Now and 55 percent from The Daily Show. Furthermore, 24 percent of the content from The History Channel is restricted.
It makes sense that nearly one in four videos from the History Channel would be restricted: programs on the Third Reich, the purges of Stalin, and the battles on the Pacific Islands while both fascinating and educational, they contain content appropriate for adults.
Prager U videos placed on restricted mode include discussions of rape, abortion, ISIS and police racism. As a parent, I appreciate that YouTube allows me to decide if this content is appropriate for my boys.
As conservatives, we should be championing decency standards in media. As our culture careens toward a sewer of toxicity, obscenity and godlessness, it’s nice to know content providers are giving parents tools (without government requirements).
Furthermore, while these restrictions can impact ad revenue for a content provider, it means advertisers can know their products are not sold during programming they might consider objectionable.
What is the alternative to this regime of self-enforced restrictions by a private content provider? Something much worse: Congress passing a regulatory regimen that not only restricts freedom but could impose a real bias against conservative content.
Clearly conservatives know what it is like to fight media bias. In the past, we had to deliver our message through a media filter, when television, radio and newspapers were the whole ballgame. The digital revolution has changed that. We now take content directly to voters and consumers of news.
But conservatives, quick to find a liberal conspiracy under every rock, have taken aim at Facebook, YouTube and Google in recent weeks. In crying bias where it doesn’t exist, we are playing into the liberals’ hands. And we risk limiting our most important communication tool in the process.
If the pro-regulations forces in Congress can claim both parties are dissatisfied with social media and Internet content providers, it strengthens their case for government parameters over social media and Internet content as media. This will ultimately mean the content that today gets past the media filter will have its own media filter. It will likely obstruct our efforts to deliver conservative content on these channels.
Instead of complaining about the content rules, conservatives should master them. When we do, we win under them.
In reality, conservative content is also flourishing on YouTube. Content that is restricted is not a reason for complaints about bias. If anything, it underscores we have won an important debate about decency in the public sphere.
Let’s accept our victory, and continue to produce creative, conservative content that cuts through the clutter without facing (or helping implement) new regulatory barriers.