The Tyranny of Ambiguity

There are a wealth of reasons I was motivated to create TubeShift and share it with the world but fundamentally I felt I needed to do something about the censorship that exists online and especially at the hands of YouTube. This is why TubeShift pushes heavily that it is a tool to Watch less YouTube but you may have noticed that TubeShift is quite capable of shifting away from the other platforms it supports as well. This is because while YouTube has clearly established themselves as an enemy of free speech the other platforms never managed to establish themselves an ally of it either. TubeShift is a tool to fight censorship and it does not care if that censorship is happening at the hands of YouTube, Bitchute, DailyMotion, Rumble, or Odysee.

Since TubeShift was created there has been some concerning changes in the content policies at the alternative platforms that are supported. YouTube has demonstrated themselves the absolute worst offender in terms of the suppression of free expression for the publishers there. Unfortunately though it looks like more suppression of expression is coming. Not only is suppression in our future but it is coming using the same techniques that YouTube started off with: broad content policies that will surely become creatively and selectively enforced. I'm calling this the tyranny of ambiguity.

The tyranny of ambiguity is the trick of making what looks like reasonable content policies but leaving them so open ended and open to interpretation that they can be applied beyond their obvious intent. Lets start by looking at the new Odysee content policies. Most people believe that Odysee are free speech absolutists but this is not the case at all. Odysee is related to the LBRY project but that does not mean that Odysee believes in free speech. Yes Odysee loves to market themselves as the place to go to avoid censorship and to celebrate free speech but that is in direct contrast to their publicly available content policies which you can find at their community guidelines page which they call their Declaration of Indifference. The guidelines are anything but indifferent.

As of the writing of this blog Odysee community guideline number 8 starts off with “We don’t care about what you publish, livestream, comment, or include in channel descriptions” which is very nice to hear but then the sentence continues with “for the most part.” Well then. So what do they care about?

  • Content or posts that incite hatred or violence towards a particular group or person
  • Excessive bullying of persons not well known within the public sphere

For a platform that defines themselves as being against censorship it is quite the interesting set of content restrictions. Those two policies can be summarized as “don't be mean” and they are entirely subjective. Why is this so concerning? Because this is exactly where YouTube started out and after 5 years of slippery slope we find ourselves in the absurd situation today where you can be punished by YouTube for medical misinformation by citing verifiable information the US CDC has published themselves so long as YouTube doesn't agree with it as a part of their coronavirus narrative.

What does Odysee mean when they say content that incites hatred or contains excessive bullying is not welcome on the platform? They offer examples of such content but also include the caveat of “including but not limited to” with their examples. This means that Odysee gets to make it up as they go along. Odysee has decided to start imposing content restrictions while virtue signaling and I think it is because they are caving to pressures from their advertisers since advertisers tend to be extremely risk averse. I believe one of the major problems with YouTube is that they are clearing out their platform from anything more controversial than Pepsi is willing to advertise on. Is Odysee going to ride the same slippery slope that YouTube did? Only time will tell.

Bitchute now has incitement to hatred restrictions in their community guidelines though they are following their obligations under EU law and make those restrictions regional. It does not look like people publishing from the United States are subject to these restrictions unless they are publishing about someone from an EU jurisdiction. I consider this to be a case where they need improvement because they could change the jurisdiction their HQ lives in to improve it. Let's hope Bitchute never caves to advertiser pressure. So far so good.

What's going on at Rumble? According to their Terms and Conditions the following is not welcome: “Content or material that is grossly offensive to the online community, including but not limited to, expressions of bigotry, prejudice, racism, anti-semitism and hatred.” Sigh, here we go again with the ambiguity. What exactly does “grossly offensive” mean? It means what ever they want it to mean.

To make the list complete we need to check DailyMotion. In their Prohibited Content Policy you'll find this:

Any content that promotes violence or incites hatred against individuals or groups based on discriminating attributes (including but not limited to ethnicity, gender identity, nationality, race, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, age, social class, disability, or veteran status), or any content meant to incite the audience to terrorist acts, will be immediately removed.

As you can see there is only one platform that looks like they are trying to stick to ideals of free speech even if they must make certain restrictions because of legal requirements: BitChute. Every other platform has created content policies based on open-ended feelings based restrictions. Out of all the platforms that have such policies only one of them professes to believe in free speech: Odysee. I find this to be quite disingenuous of them.