Google to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes?

Israel's Maariv newspaper reported Nov. 24 that deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely met with representatives of YouTube and Google to discuss cooperation in what she called the fight against "inciting violence and terrorism." She told Maariv that  she especially sought to establish a joint working mechanism to monitor and prevent publication of "inflammatory material" originating in the Palestinian territories. Middle East Monitor writes: "Since the latest escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israeli security services that erupted at the beginning of October, many people have been sharing videos depicting Israeli aggression towards Palestinians to highlight the Palestinian perspective of the conflict." Activists and Arab newsmedia have "expressed concerns that the meetings suggest moves towards censoring Palestinian material on the part of the Israeli state."

Since the beginning of October, 94 Palestinians have been killed in shootings and clashes with Israeli forces in both the occupied territories and Israel, while 16 Israelis have been killed in knife and gun attacks, according to Al Jazeera.  One Eritrean asylum-seeker was killed when he was mistaken for a Palestinian attacker during a raid in southern Israel in late October. Rights groups have warned that Israel is using excessive force against Palestinians and that some of the incidents amounted to extrajudicial killings.

Internet partisans have of course been avidly spreading images of Israeli brutalization of Palestinians. They were even more busy during last year's Israeli air assault on Gaza, which provided plenty of atrocity pornography. (Rights groups are calling for a war crimes investigation over the Gaza campaign.)

It has to be said that there is something unhealthy about the habitual propaganda exploitation of dead babies on the Internet. Do I really want to see photos of mangled children on my Facebook page, with admonishments to stop the carnage in Gaza (or Syria or Iraq)? No, I don't. Especially given that the photos are almost invariably unsourced, and it is therefore impossible to even know if the dead kids are being presented honestly. This is the worst of the worst of Facebook propaganda, which is saying quite a lot.

Furthermore, having mangled babies popping up on your Facebook stream in between cute kitten photos and banal invitations to "Name a city that does not have the letter A" has exactly the opposite of its intended effect: It ultimately further de-sensitizes us to violence and carnage. Remember back when we were all mad at the TV news for juxtaposing reports of genocide in Biafra with advertizements for Jello? How is this any better?

But that said… If Google and YouTube acquiesce in Hotovely's proposal, the implications for free speech are obvious and grim. Facebook has already engaged in egregious blatant censorship of content deemed offensive to the sensibilities of ruling elites in markets it hopes to corner or penetrate, particularly Turkey (pro-Kurdish) and China (pro-Tibetan). So it is easy to anticipate where this is leading. Once the giants like Facebook, Google and YouTube have totally colonized the Internet and become the predominant (or sole) media of information exchange, then they will pull the rug out from under us by acquiescing in the censorship demands of the highest-paying despots. In a year or two (after Xi Jinping relents and lets Facebook through the Great Firewall), it will be impossible to read anything there about Tibet, the Uighurs, the Tiananmen massacre, Taiwanese independence–or Internet censorship in China! Expect other governments, including Washington, to follow China’s example in making such demands once they see how cooperative Facebook is. Israel has now apparently joined the authoritarian regimes leading this charge toward global digital totalitarianism.

Progressive Jewish blogger Richard Silverstein  writes that he has sent an e-mail to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Google's press office asking to clarify what was discussed or agreed to at the meeting with Hotovely. It will be interesting to see how (or if) they respond.