Before the Senate on Tuesday, Dennis Prager, the founder of the conservative behemoth PragerU and its affiliated YouTube Channels, railed against the video-sharing service for restricting access to roughly one-fifth of his video content for being “mature contents” considered inappropriate for younger audiences.
Prager testified that YouTube routinely suppresses conservative perspectives such as his on its website and bars “restricted mode” users from viewing roughly twenty percent of the 320 videos uploaded by his channel. Censored content includes videos on the Ten Commandments and the history of Israel, according to Prager.
“We have repeatedly asked Google why our videos are restricted. No explanation is ever given," he said. "But, of course, we know why. Because they come from a conservative perspective."
"Restricted mode" is an optional feature on YouTube that purportedly filters out “mature content” that is inappropriate for children and young people or institutions like churches and schools. Google, which owns YouTube, does not make clear what exactly constitutes “mature content” on its website.
Karan Bhatia, a Google executive who also testified at the Monday hearing, explained that the feature is supposed to tag “war, rape, and things like that.”
Bhatia explained during the hearing that YouTube tagged PragerU’s ten commandment video specifically because it “contains references to murder … [and] potentially Nazism and World War Two, perhaps something along those lines.”
The Ten Commandments video in question considers the moral and religious arguments surrounding murder to explain the importance of God’s command. It also contains a passing reference to Nazi and Communist killings to argue atheism does not prevent murder. The Ten Commandments video is still unwatchable for “restricted mode” users as of this article’s publication.
Prager said that Bhatia’s explanation for suppressing his video was “so absurd as to be hilarious.” He promised to upload a video without any reference to “thou shalt not murder” to get around the restrictions.
“I feel like I’m in a Monty Python film when [Bhatia] says something like that. The only possible explanation for all of this is they don’t like PragerU because we’re a very, very influential conservative voice touching a lot of lives. There’s no other explanation.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) expressed sympathy for Prager, sarcastically pointing out, “You would think we would want young people hearing ‘thous shalt not murder.’”
PragerU was founded in 2009 to consider various political, economic, and philosophical issues from a conservative perspective. Prager said the YouTube channel, which now has 2.2 million subscribers and nearly 750 million views, aims to inform youths in America and the world-at-large — a mission that is hurt by this type of censorship.
“Vast number of parents have filters — totally understandable, given how much junk there is on the internet,” he said. “It not only hurts us in that that family cannot see that video. It hurts us because then it is a statement by Google that Prager University produces videos on the moral level of pornography.”
YouTube’s policy notes that the site will take down porn or any “sexually gratifying” content from its website, but says some “fetish content” may only be age-restricted. Restricted mode, however, does not necessarily flag content because it is pornographic, as it polices all “mature contents” more generally. Bhatia, the Google executive, noted many videos barred in restricted mode are “perfectly acceptable to watch.”
Bhatia downplayed Prager’s concerns of censorship, arguing that the vast majority of users can watch PragerU videos without restriction. But while only two percent of accounts have restricted mode turned on, Prager noted that many restricted mode users are young people — the very demographic that PragerU hopes to appeal to.
As a result of YouTube’s restriction, Prager sued the video-hosting company in January for “continuing to unlawfully restrict and restrain speech and expression,” Fox reported.
“Do you think the secretary-general of NATO, or the former prime-ministers of Norway, Canada, and Spain, or the late Charles Krauthammer, or Philip Hamburger, distinguished professor of law at Columbia Law School, would make a video for an extreme or hate-filled site?” he wrote in his testimony. “The idea is not only preposterous; it is a smear.”
Documents submitted by Google as part of Prager’s lawsuit, and introduced in the hearing by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), complicates the picture painted by Prager. The document shows that restricted mode has flagged a much higher percentage of content produced by left-leaning accounts — such as Vox, Buzzfeed, and The Young Turk — compared to PragerU. For instance, 42.53 percent of videos produced by NowThis World are flagged by restricted mode.
“If Google’s treatment of PragerU is meant to show Google’s anti-conservative bias, Google isn’t doing a very good job with it,” Hirono said.
“I’m really not understanding Mr. Prager’s concerns,” she added later.
The senator did not give Prager the time to respond to her confusion.