YouTube Censors North Carolina County Government Meeting

July 14, 2021 Updated: July 14, 2021

A county board of commissioners in North Carolina is pushing back against tech giant Google after YouTube, owned by Google, deleted one of the board’s videos for allegedly violating YouTubes terms and conditions regarding medical misinformation.

After its June 16 meeting, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners video upload on YouTube was taken down, prompting commissioners to call an emergency meeting on Friday, June 18.

During the emergency meeting, the board directed staff to seek out other platforms on which the board’s meetings can be posted, as well as to find alternatives to Google products.

Henderson County’s budget includes about $400,000 for Google Chromebooks for the county’s public school system.

Though the Chromebooks have already been budgeted for fiscal year 2021, Lapsley said an equivalent to the Chromebooks that aren’t manufactured by Google will be considered for fiscal year 2022.

“We aren’t going to buy Google products whenever we have a choice,” Board of Commissioner Chairman William Lapsley told The Epoch Times.

In the public comment period of the June 16 meeting, several people had asked that the commissioners not use local taxpayers’ money to assist in North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s vaccine incentives, which includes four $1 million cash drawings, $25 cash cards, and signage such as billboards.

These incentives are not funded by state or local governments, but from the U.S. Treasury Department’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed in March.

Citizens who speak in the public comment period are allotted three minutes and can talk about any subject, according to Lapsley, “as long as they keep it civil.”

It’s not, however, a dialogue with the commissioners, Lapsley said.

“It’s just an opportunity for anybody to tell the commissioners what’s on their mind,” Lapsley said.

For several years, county staff has uploaded the meetings to YouTube, where it would stay for 90 days.

“We posted the video as we normally do, and within about two hours we got an email from YouTube telling us that the video has been taken down because of misinformation,” Lapsley said.

Lapsley said staff appealed in the process provided by YouTube within an hour, however, YouTube said the video will remain pulled and will not return.

According to a spokesperson for YouTube: “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we established clear policies to prevent the spread of misinformation that could lead to real-world harm. While we welcome open debate and discussion about the COVID-19 vaccines on our platform, we don’t allow content that includes claims the vaccines have killed thousands of people, and as such we removed a video from the Henderson County Board of Commissioners’ channel.”

Though none of the 12 people who spoke in the meeting made the direct claim that vaccines have killed thousands of people, each one of them spoke against the vaccine programs “targeting massive groups of people” based on what they said were “suppressed facts.”

One of the speakers in the meeting addressed Big Tech censorship as one of the causes of misinformation on the COVID-19 vaccines.

Lapsley later added that the board recognizes the right of a privately owned company such as YouTube to review and control the material on their platforms.

“However, we feel that by posting our local government video in the past, they were providing a ‘public space’ for their customers to exercise their individual right to free speech,” Lapsley said. “Obviously, they are now censoring the free speech of our county citizens by their action of taking down the county video of a public meeting—this presents a dangerous precedent that this branch of local government will not support. The board has directed county staff to identify any and all purchases of Google (parent company of YouTube) related products and to seek other vendors for similar equipment and/or services.”

Escalating Censorship

YouTube’s most recent highly publicized video deletion was one uploaded by the American Conservative Union (ACU), a nonprofit educational foundation that examines conservative-based solutions to American issues.

The video, which was an episode of “America UnCanceled,” featured former President Donald Trump announcing his plan to file a lawsuit against Google, Facebook, and Twitter.

According to the ACU, YouTube alleged the video contained “medical misinformation” regarding COVID-19, however, the ACU said YouTube didn’t cite examples.

In a statement on its website, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp said it’s “yet another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”

Though Google is a private company, the platform, along with Facebook and Twitter, is protected from liability for its content under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which allows for the platforms to remove posts that violate their terms and conditions.

Because YouTube, Google, Facebook, and Twitter partake in public discourse regarding government actions, it’s been argued that, though they are private companies, they must adhere to the First Amendment addressing free speech.

According to Henderson County Attorney Russell Burrell, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners are required by law to take public comment at its two meetings each month.

“The statute states that the board has no control over what the public talks about,” Burrell told The Epoch Times. “If people want to come in and talk about how they chose the name of their child, I don’t think the commissioners can stop them. It’s their three minutes.”

However, the content of the public comment period—what Burrell called “the business of the people”—was not what YouTube wanted on its platform, Burrell said, so it removed the entire meeting, “including the parts of the meeting that had nothing to do with vaccines.”

“This was not something that was pleasing to the commissioners, and I know they were upset about it, so they decided not to use YouTube as a repository for those videos in the future,” Burrell said.

As far as recourse under the First Amendment, Burrell stated that the language of the law expresses that Congress can’t pass legislation prohibiting free speech, while the Fourteenth Amendment applies this rule to state government.

“However, there’s no amendment that applies this to Google,” Burrell said, unless, he added, a court were to decide Google to be a monopoly.
“Then the Federal government could, if it chose to do so, regulate Google as a monopoly,” Burrell said.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners’ next meeting is on July 21.

The livestream for the June 16 meeting can be found here.

Matt McGregor
Matt McGregor
Reporter
Matt McGregor covers news from North and South Carolina for The Epoch Times.