Harsha Man Maharjan
The evidence shows YouTube could be a menace, when it is left unchecked—audience being uncritical, YouTuber being avarice— and there are concerns that some mechanisms to govern YouTubers are needed. YouTube has become a platform not only to help those in need, but also to spread malice, hatred, rumours, and earn revenue easily. While discussing the governing mechanisms, we should focus on the role of different actors—state, YouTubers and audiences— and create a balance between rights and responsibilities.
The mechanism the state uses is legal provisions to govern YouTubers, but these provisions have come under criticism as often freedom of expression is curtailed when these laws are used. Let us see two cases, in which the charges were made under the Electronic Transaction Act, 2008.
One, in March 2019, police arrested a model, the owner of YouTube channel, Masti Talk Time produced by Fulchoki Media and its host in charge of promoting obscenity in the society. This channel had uploaded interviews with struggling actors/models about their personal and sexual lives. The model had shared her experience of working as a sex worker in the interview. When the news about this arrest was uploaded on YouTube, many people left comments thanking the police for this "commendable" job, but few people claimed that the model had rights to do and speak as she wanted.
Two, on June 7, 2019, comedian Pranesh Gautam was arrested on the charge of cybercrime when his video reviewing Nepali movie Bir Bikram 2 was uploaded in the YouTube channel of meme Nepal. While the director of the movie and its crew claimed that his review was intended to defame the film industry by using racist and sexist remarks, his supporters termed the arrest as the violation of his freedom of expression. People also criticized the review for using foul words and urged to be more responsible. Pranesh remained in custody for more than a week.
But the use of this Act to regulate the activities in cyberspace is problematic. Often article 47 of this Act is invoked that prohibits people from publishing materials against law, public morality, decency and communal harmony. This Act was formulated to govern electronic transactions and the IT sector, then to regulate freedom of expression. As people demanded that this law should be revised or annulled, the government has brought out the Information Technology Bill, 2075 BS, which also came under huge criticism from journalists, activists and civil society for its provisions curtailing freedom of expression. This bill is still in consideration in the parliament.
Both YouTubers and audiences can contribute to governance. The mechanism YouTubers can have is self-regulation. If YouTubers themselves follow the community guidelines related to issues such as sensitive content, and violent or dangerous content, it will be better for them. The guideline under "violent and gory content" clearly mentions that sexual content should be uploaded under 'age-restricted content'. So, merely having a disclaimer in Masti Talk Time was not enough, it should have kept many of its videos under this category. There are many Nepali videos on YouTube which should have been put under this category. YouTubers are also uploading videos that have violent and gory content, blurring the image or putting them under 'age-restricted content' category, though the community guidelines don't allow it. So, when YouTubers demand that their rights be assured, they also need to be responsible. Following these guidelines is one way to make them more responsible.
The mechanism audiences can have is voicing to safeguard the rights and to remind about the responsibilities of YouTubers. For this, they should be literate about the platform. Being literate is to know what can be or can't be posted on YouTube and how it earns money. It is to know that YouTube is "addictive" as it uses artificial intelligence to analyse users' behaviour and serve the content according to their preferences. It is also to be aware that many YouTubers want the audience's attention so they often promote rumors and fake news with misleading and sensational headlines to earn revenue. They should be aware of the community guidelines and report if they are violated by YouTubers or leave comments on the videos and request YouTubers to follow these guidelines. They can voice when YouTubers' rights are curtailed.
Among the mechanisms of governing YouTubers, regulation by state has often drawn criticism. So, while using such regulations, the state machinery has to restrain from using them recklessly. YouTubers also need to be self-regulated, if they want respect from the audience. Audiences' voice is needed to make YouTubers more responsible.
(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.)