You can find my daily video show, Mediabytes, on about 26 websites including magnify.net – a site founded and run by my very good friend, Steve Rosenbaum. We found each other on the phone the other day comparing notes on our CES experiences. Not surprisingly, Steve was eager to share statistics about how successful magnify.net has become, with more than 500,000 views daily. During our conversation, he told me that the third most popular channel on magnify was called, “Islam Will Dominate.” This caught me off guard, so I immediately visited magnify.net to see for myself. On this particular day Steve was wrong, it was the second most popular video channel on the site. “Really,” I said. “Humm … how do you feel about that?”
Steve’s position is that magnify.net is a platform. His company is not responsible for the content anymore than Google or YouTube would be responsible. He told me that magnify.net has a policy that prohibits “hate speech” as defined on their site, but content that does not meet that standard is not censored in any way.
At this point in the conversation, I had not watched any of the videos on the channel, I had just looked at the thumbnails and their metadata. I was disturbed by the title of the channel, “Islam Will Dominate,” but I did not have enough personal knowledge of the content to approve or disapprove of any particular piece of content.
I asked Steve if he thought that offering an enabling technology to a group of individuals who were proselytizing a doctrine that incited people to kill people who did not believe in their particular worldview was a good idea? Steve correctly admonished that I had not seen all of the content, admitted that he hadn’t either and we watched a few while on the phone together.
We got into a very balanced discussion about religious dogma, extremism, moderates, the true message of Islam and the like. This is not a conversation I wish to have with you. Steve is my friend and we have enough mutual respect to passionately argue ideology without any residual animus. In fact, we talk about religion and politics all the time.
Steve and I both live in New York, close enough to Ground Zero to remember the taste of the charnel smell in our throats. I don’t have to hypothesize about whether or not this particular group and their religious beliefs are dangerous to me, my family, my friends and neighbors – I simply have to look out the southern facing windows of my apartment and consider the change in the New York City skyline.
My position is relatively simple. People who are willing to kill you if you do not adopt their worldview are dangerous. Thinking adults should do everything in their power to prevent the proliferation of any dogma that lauds, makes martyrs of, or otherwise deifies people who think it is acceptable to kill other people because they don’t wish to pray to a particular god, follow particular traditions or adopt a particular way of life. (This is my worldview. You don’t have to agree with it. I am not advocating it, nor am I willing to attack or otherwise harm anyone who happens do disagree with me.)
I truly believe that anyone is entitled to any worldview to which they wish to ascribe. However, if they are publishing the idea that they are ready, willing and able to kill me if I don’t agree with them, I simply don’t think I need to sit idly by and allow them to do so. Steve argued the other side. His feeling was that magnify.net was a platform and that providing a venue for conversation could only help. After all, conversation fosters understanding.
Although I totally agree with this point, I think it has to come with a caveat – conversation with the purpose of fostering understanding is a great idea, you just have to leave your AK-47′s, car bombs and suicide bombers at home and agree not to use them. I asked the question, “Steve, what happens when magnify.net enables this particular group to change minds close to home and a car bomb or suicide bomber kills one of your children with their new understanding of this dogma?”
And so we come to the most important question of our time: How can we protect ourselves in and from the Information Age?
If you search “Islam will dominate” on Google, you will find hundreds of pages of results. Type it into YouTube, same thing. The Internet is ubiquitous – what, if anything, should be done?
Our constitution prohibits our government from preventing anyone from saying almost anything (other than crying out “fire” in a crowded theater) in public spaces. But this idea of freedom of expression does not apply to private spaces, homes, workplaces or the purview of private enterprise.
Should magnify.net give a voice to Islam? Will it dominate? What does that mean? How about evangelical Christians? Don’t they have to be stopped as well? What about Mormons or Jews? Should we limit the flow of their messages?
To me the answer is very simple – as long as you don’t advocate killing me, you can say anything you like. But, when you are actively recruiting people who will be brainwashed to end my life, you don’t get to use my tools to do it.
I’m not advocating the burning of books or the slippery slope of censorship – I’m advocating filtering out and disrupting the most powerful tool that our enemies have – information. Is this censorship? Steve says yes. I say no. I think filtering is a pretty good survival tactic for the information age. Steve does not. What will Chad Hurley or Eric Schmidt say? We should ask them; in fact we should all discuss this at length.
After our call, I watched a bunch of videos on magnify.net’s “Islam Will Dominate” channel and couldn’t find anything particularly offensive or dangerous sounding. I don’t agree with any of it, but I respect their right to believe whatever they wish to believe. Perhaps if the channel was entitled, “Allah is Great” I would not have been inspired to consider the issue. However, I do not wish to be “dominated” by anyone or any thing and their choice of words begged the question: Does a private company in NYC have an obligation to help promulgate a belief system that is antithetical to the existence of NYC?
As the world gets wired, we are going to be faced with the enormity of this ethical question over and over again. We, as a society living in the Information Age, must get a handle on it now. My personal views don’t matter. But, our collective view does. The constitution does not contemplate a world where information is available everywhere in an instant. But it is the world we live in today. What shall we do about it? What questions should we ask? What do you think?