Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300-319)


1 APRIL 2008

  Q300  Philip Davies: There is one argument you made that I cannot quite follow. You said that you do not really want to go down the line of somebody like YouTube looking at things before they go up there to decide whether or not they are worthy of going on and that that would be a restriction on free expression. Once something is flagged up to you you then review it to see whether it is acceptable or not. What is the difference between reviewing it before it goes on to see if it is acceptable and reviewing it after it has gone on to see if it is acceptable? Surely you are going through exactly the same process.

  Mr Walker: In the United States I am not sure if the language is the same but I suspect the concept is the same in Britain. We would have concerns about what what in the States we would call prior restraint. We have hundreds of thousands of pieces of material being uploaded on YouTube or millions of pieces being uploaded if you start to include Blogger, MySpace, Bebo, shared documents, posts going up onto videos, a huge amount of user-generated content. This is what is called "Web 2.0" and it is where you have empowering of the individual consumers to create their own content. If you try to take that vast amount of content and pre-screen all of it, it is neither efficient nor effective and would burden the process of creation. Think of the delays that would be occasioned between the time you tried to edit a document or post a comment and some days later when it would appear online. It is a very different model to anything the Internet has ever had.

  Q301  Philip Davies: What you are saying is it would be a pain in the backside to do that. I do not dispute for one minute that it would be hopelessly inconvenient and a complete pain for you, but if it would stop things like this from going on in some of my local schools would you not agree that it is a price worth paying?

  Mr Walker: It is not the price for us that I would be concerned about but the price for the user. It is a somewhat different model to what we have had before. A page like this gets worked on by 20 different people. It is on the Internet; it is user-generated content. If I change a comma, should that need to be reviewed before it goes online? I recognise there is a spectrum, from something that gets viewed millions of times to the millions of things that get viewed only a small number of times, but all of that is user-generated content. If you have a correction to a Wikipedia article, should it need to be pre-reviewed before you can move the comma? This is the challenge that we face in trying to come up with a scaleable model that works for all forms of user-generated content. The effective and generally fairly efficient approach and the approach that has safeguarded the user experience and the value of the Net have been responding very quickly to problems. It is as it is in the offline world. We do not have policemen on every street corner stopping things from happening. We have policemen who very quickly respond when there are problems that occur and consequences for violation of those rules. In this case you would remove a video, you would lose your account and you would be kicked off the Google services if you were guilty of violating the rules.

  Q302  Paul Farrelly: Mr Walker, it was a very simple question that my colleague Mr Davies asked you which you did not answer. How many people does YouTube employ to proactively review and take down inappropriate content irrespective of whether it has been flagged or not?

  Mr Walker: The answer is we do not proactively review in a human way—

  Q303  Paul Farrelly: Not a single person?

  Mr Walker: We have automated tools which review material to see if it has been previously flagged and will stop its reoccurrence. We are developing tools, again to the point that we are a technology company—

  Q304  Paul Farrelly: Not a single person is the answer?

  Mr Walker: Devoted to doing prior restraints of user communication, that is correct.

  Q305  Paul Farrelly: Let us take a clear-cut example. Somebody perverse uploads a piece of child pornography, how does that get removed from YouTube before anyone flags it?

  Mr Walker: There are two potential ways. One, we are working very hard on various forms of automated filters that will detect—

  Q306  Paul Farrelly: How does it now get removed?

  Mr Walker: In some cases I believe some of these filters are already being used to identify pornography content. It is difficult to distinguish child pornography from general pornography, but the advantage is that both are illegal or unacceptable on YouTube and so we do not allow it.

  Q307  Paul Farrelly: How does it work? Until someone flags it—

  Mr Walker: If an individual piece of video has been uploaded before and we have ruled it a violation of our terms of service or illegal—

  Q308  Paul Farrelly: I am talking about a new piece. You are saying somebody has got to flag it to you before it is taken down.

  Mr Walker: I am saying that that is an important part of the way the material comes down. I think you will find that there is very little pornography let alone child pornography on the site because of that. As users know that if they upload something they should know it is going to come down very quickly it is almost not worth the bother of putting it up in the first place. Either it is blocked because it has already been taken down before, it is potentially blocked because it is something that our system has identified as being pornographic or it is blocked because the first person to look at it says it is clearly child pornography and would flag it and it comes down within a matter of minutes. The game is not worth the candle.

  Q309  Paul Farrelly: Clearly it would affect YouTube's business model if it had to employ banks of people to do this and therefore your profitability. Does your business model not abdicate any responsibility that you have?

  Mr Walker: I would say the reverse is true. The unacceptable content, child pornography—we make no money from pornography and have no desire to or from the offensive content. There is a much larger risk to our brand reputation and to the vast amounts of money and time and effort we put in to try to detect and remove this material from the service. We would be, from a business perspective, much better off if none of this had ever hit the site.

  Q310  Paul Farrelly: Last year there was a teenager murdered in random violence in Liverpool and the press posted pictures of screamed rants from YouTube on videos glorifying gang violence. I am sure this is not just a UK issue, it is an issue in America as well. When I made some comments about that YouTube's response was to say, "We're not in the process of editorializing. It's nothing to do with us, Guv," and subsequently I have been pestered by teams of YouTube PR people seeking to meet me and educate me. If those people were employed doing something about that sort of content or if the law as it stands gave you more of an incentive to do that I would feel much happier, particularly as the father of young children.

  Mr Walker: Let me apologise for any pestering. I am sure it was not intended. The general notion is that it is right that we feel a sense of responsibility, as I am sure you do and parents everywhere, to try and make sure that this sort of stuff does not get uploaded. Material that promotes violence on our site violates our rules and it should not be there.

  Q311  Paul Farrelly: There was another case recently where a young girl of 15 was prosecuted and sentenced to detention for being an accessory to manslaughter and possibly murder because of the filming of gratuitous violence that was uploaded to YouTube. If the law were to be strengthened to make it carry the risk that by virtue of owning YouTube and broadcasting that you might also, unless you took the issue more seriously, be prosecuted as an accessory, that would give you more incentive to sharpen your act up, would it not?

  Mr Walker: I do not think of ourselves as a broadcaster, I think of ourselves as a communications platform. I assure you, we take the issue extremely seriously right now. The question is not a lack of will.

  Q312  Paul Farrelly: But you do not employ a single person.

  Mr Walker: To do something that we ultimately think would be the wrong approach. We employ many people to get involved in this very complicated balancing of the chilling of free speech on the one hand and the elimination of harmful or offensive content on the other and that is ultimately the right path. There are problematic phone conversations that go on every day with people planning criminal offences. No one would think to impose a requirement on the phone company to monitor phone calls, which would probably be effective in reducing the use of telephones to commit criminal acts. The balance on the other side, of the invasion of privacy, would be thought to be undue. Here again I think trying to create a model which turns the Internet into a monitored broadcast medium where everything you want to post to YouTube or MySpace, whether it a comment to a blog or a blog itself or even your email which goes out to 100 people, should have to run through a filter before it is made public—

  Q313  Chairman: I think our approach would be to suggest to you that your corporate slogan might not just be "Do no evil" but perhaps "Take an active role to prevent others doing evil". I understand about the amount of material that is posted. Could you confirm whether or not ten hours every minute of video content is correct?

  Mr Walker: That is currently correct. It goes up every day.

  Q314  Chairman: That video content is tagged. You do not need to look at every single minute of video content. Surely you could have people who would look at the video content which is tagged with labels which suggest it could be inappropriate. If something is tagged "rape" then you might decide that would be worth looking at rather than waiting to see if somebody reports it.

  Mr Walker: We look at a variety of different signals. Key words might be something to take into account. The challenge is when you go down that path and someone is posting a comment on "Sex in the City", you might well get an awful lot of material that is not problematic.

  Q315  Chairman: If you were to narrow your search by looking at the material which is tagged with labels which suggest it could well be inappropriate then you would not have to be looking at the ten hours going up every minute, you could actually employ some people specifically for this purpose.

  Mr Walker: At the end of the day, I think we all agree that the goal is to minimise the amount of controversial material that is on the site. What is the most effective way to do that, not the least expensive, but the way that is best for the user experience, to block it? It may be that some combination of an analysis of the material that is being uploaded through technological tools, an analysis of the labels that are going on, an analysis of the history of the user if they have previously posted problematic material but not so much that their account has been suspended and an analysis of how many people were viewing an item or have viewed other items in the past. We take a lot of different signals data into account. Certainly it is a fair suggestion and it is one we will continue to look at.

  Q316  Chairman: I only raise it because there was a case in the UK very recently of a woman who was gang raped and a video was then uploaded to YouTube. It was viewed by 600 people before it was taken down.

  Mr Walker: There were 600 views. We believe it was a much smaller number of individuals, but I am familiar with it. Clearly it was a mistake on our part as a result of human review. Our reviewers review a lot of material and in some cases just simply make a mistake.

  Q317  Chairman: You say it was a mistake on your part, but it would have been possible to take it down earlier, would it not?

  Mr Walker: The initial flag was reviewed and the individual reviewer, who had reviewed a huge number of materials, did not take it down promptly upon reviewing it. I do not know exactly what happened, but it was a mistake. It was a tiny, tiny, infinitesimal percentage of the material that we are reviewing.

  Paul Farrelly: That is incredible.

  Q318  Adam Price: How could you make a mistake like that? How can you agree with gang rape and not see it for what it is?

  Mr Walker: The challenge points out the difficulty with human review and that the answer is not always putting more people on this.

  Adam Price: Come on!

  Paul Farrelly: Do you know how absurd you are sounding?

  Q319  Adam Price: You are defending the indefensible now. People will find this deeply objectionable. You cannot defend that. No reviewer could view that kind of content and not understand it for what it is. Surely that single case is enough for you to realise that your approach is completely inadequate. How can you defend that?

  Mr Walker: I do not mean to defend it. Certainly the rape itself and the underlying content are abominable and no one would defend it.

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