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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Did YouTube Block Marijuana Questions in Obama Interview?

Google’s YouTube allowed viewers to submit a question for US president Obama. Over 11,000 questions were asked and over 667,000 votes were cast, YouTube writes, saying they “collected the top questions”. Now, Toke of the Town however writes that “YouTube Censors Marijuana Question In Obama Interview”:

Yes, questions about marijuana were the most popular in the CitizenTube voting Monday afternoon.

But YouTube, in a gutless move, decided at the last minute not to present the highest ranked questions to the President. (...)

So they chunked all the votes, and just picked the questions they would have asked anyway.

It seems obvious now that when YouTube said “We’ve collected the top questions,” they didn’t mean the questions viewers thought were tops. They mean the questions they picked to be tops.

Sorted by popularity, the top 3 questions of the “Other” category on the Google Moderator board set up for the purpose are:

  1. “Mr. President, When you asked the country to give you questions, one of the most asked was ’Are you going to legalize Marijuana’. When you read it, you laughed like it wasnt serious. Why is that?” -Anonymous, Florida
  2. “What are your plans for cannabis legalization?” -Anonymous, Oklahoma
  3. “Why don’t you legalize marijuana, it seems like a great way to gain tax money, and people should have to right to use it if they please, and it would cripple gang activity? Do you plan to?” -Lussy Picker, Kentucky

“Other” was one of several categories, and questions were also submittable by video. Of the top 10 questions in that category, 8 were related to cannabis legalization. One other was about ensuring that the internet remains free of censorship, and another about DMCA takedown reqests suppressing freedom of speech and fair use on sites like YouTube. Also, 9 out of 10 video questions in the “Other” category – including the whole top 5 – were about marijuana. Voting is closed by now, so I suppose these results are rather stable.

The YouTube employee doing the interview puts it this way during the introduction of the video (my emphasis): “Hello everyone, we’re here at the White House today for a very unique event: an exlusive interview with President Obama, in which the questions come from American people who’ve submitted them and chosen them online.” He continues that “all of the questions you’ll see here today were voted into the top tier of the thousands of questions we received, and none of them have been chosen by the White House, or seen by the president”.

If anyone of you has more information, please add a comment. Is above outline correct?

[Via Reddit.]

Update: DarthNole comments:

They also arbitrarily moved top rated questions into the “other” category without concent from the original poster and without considering whether they really belonged there or not. The Top Rated question under “Health Care” was about legalizing marijuana for medical uses (re-schedule marijuana) until YouTube decided that all marijuana questions belonged in the “other” category.

Update 2: Google replied to a question per email, saying:

We were only able to ask a small handful of the over 11,000 questions we received. In picking questions we wanted to ensure we minimized duplicates, asked a broad range of questions to cover as many issues as possible, and had a mix of video and text questions. We also wanted to make sure the questions would lead to substantive answers and hadn’t been asked in previous programs we’ve had with the President. We had plenty more questions to ask, but the president’s time was obviously limited.

Note: A Marijuana related question had been asked before, in another interview session. Google also says the White House did not block any particular topic or question.


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