Google has been caught up in a controversy over anti-Semitic videos that have been circulating on YouTube.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany has gone to court to force the video-sharing site to permanently purge the files, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. The paper quotes Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council, saying he believes Google was culpable for "aiding and abetting racial hatred and discrimination."
This question is especially freighted with extra historical baggage in Germany, where the Holocaust occupies a front row in the nation's historical consciousness. And as much as it breaks my heart to say, I think the Central Council is making a mistake.
In the U.S., hate groups figured among the earliest of the early adopters. They quickly figured out how to exploit the Internet to spread their message and use the medium to raise money. More than half a century after the Holocaust, one might have hoped for better. Then again, people don't really change that much from one generation to the next. The only difference is the quality of the technology at their disposal.
But in Germany, incitement to racial hatred crosses the legal red line. And that's why YouTube finds itself in the cross hairs. German television last year carried a report in which it was stated that, among other racist works, Internet viewers could watch a Nazi propaganda film called Jud Suess on YouTube. I watched Jud Suess years ago in college. The Nazis intended the movie to reveal the depravity of Jews. Instead, the paradox is that Jud Suess is a powerful weapon against racism. It offers compelling video testimony about that particularly insane mix of evil and absurdity that characterized the narrative of the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.
If other, more current and more graphically horrifying videos have begun circulating on YouTube, would that really surprise you? Not me. When racists get their hands on high technology, you wind up with a high-tech-savvy racist.
But Google shouldn't get hung out to dry. Instead of being on the receiving end of a lawsuit, aren't there more sensible, if not more calibrated ways to figure out the next step? I don't have any quick answer to the question. Let's get a conversation going and let me know how you think the sides should proceed.