You have to be kidding, YouTube.

You have to be kidding, YouTube.

UPDATE, 12:53 p.m., Nov. 5: YouTube caves to media pressure. The “Question 3 in 3 Minutes” video link has been restored.

News of YouTube’s indiscriminate removal of MAVoteNoOnQuestion3.com’s explanatory video “Question 3 in 3 Minutes” received local and worldwide attention. The Stockholm-based World Federation Against Drugs picked up the story this morning, and the The Boston Globe called YouTube — which, after a cursory investigation, restored the link. If the proponents of Ballot Question 3 will stoop so low as to flag our content for removal from YouTube, what else might they do?

YouTube owes our campaign — and Massachusetts voters — some explanations. Fast.

At 10:14 a.m. this morning, we received a message from YouTube, explaining that the social network owned by California-based Google had removed this video we produced about Question 3. As you’ll see, our 3-minute video is well done — and fairly vanilla by political standards. The video is an important part of our message. It is now hosted at Vimeo:

Get the Facts on Ballot Question 3 from Vote No On Question 3 on Vimeo.

Here’s the initial message we received from YouTube, banning our video:

——— Forwarded message ———- From: YouTube Service Date: Sun, Nov 4, 2012 at 10:14 AM Subject: YouTube Video Notification

YouTube | Broadcast Yourself™

Regarding your account: VoteNoOnQuestion3

The YouTube Community has flagged one or more of your videos as inappropriate. Once a video is flagged, it is reviewed by the YouTube Team against our Community Guidelines. Upon review, we have determined that the following video(s) contain content in violation of these guidelines, and have been disabled:

Question 3 in 3 minutes: Know the MA Medical Marijuana Bill Before You Vote – (VoteNoOnQuestion3)

Your account has received one Community Guidelines warning strike, which will expire in six months. Additional violations may result in the temporary disabling of your ability to post content to YouTube and/or the permanent termination of your account.

For more information on YouTube’s Community Guidelines and how they are enforced, please visit the help center.

Sincerely,

The YouTube Team

We know there are many people who will stop at nothing to ban what we have to say — so we weren’t at all surprised to learn that the “YouTube community” flagged our video as inappropriate. However, it never occurred to us that the “YouTube Team” would find anything remotely inappropriate enough to remove from the network. After all, we’re talking about drug-abuse prevention. We’re talking about improving child health. We’re talking about public safety.

And YouTube literally features hundreds, maybe thousands, of videos like this one featuring an underage boy and titled, “Smoke weed in your room without getting caught.” You can watch that in 8:32 here:

Or maybe you’d like to see Smoking Weed Ep.2, featuring a young man lighting a joint that’s in his mouth and rambling through his drug-induced haze:

We immediately appealed this ban of our content. YouTube responded with this message, delivered under the subject line, “Decision on Your Video Appeal:”

Dear VoteNoOnQuestion3, Thank you for submitting your video appeal to YouTube. After further review of the content we’ve determined that your video does violate our Community Guidelines and have upheld our original decision. We appreciate your understanding. Sincerely — The YouTube Team

It turns out that we actually don’t understand. We have reviewed YouTube’s community guidelines, including this one: “Don’t post videos showing bad stuff like animal abuse, drug abuse, under-age drinking and smoking, or bomb making.”

We also realize that our 3-minute video about drug-prevention briefly features a still image of one teen who is just about to light a joint dangling from his mouth.

We also understand that YouTube features thousands of videos of young people actually getting high — like the two featured above — videos that, for some strange reason, don’t violate the network’s standards. We used stock photography, and that was unacceptable? Really?

Cambridge lawyer John Sofis Scheft, a supporter of the No on Question 3 Campaign, has examined this matter for us, and here’s his brief analysis:

Five things jump out at me as a lawyer and a citizen:

  • YouTube took the video down before asking the No on Question 3 Campaign for an explanation.
  • They notified the campaign after the fact by an e-mail to which the campaign cannot reply.
  • They cited their Community Guidelines, but did not indicate which specific guideline the video violated.
  • They did not indicate who “flagged” the video as a violation of their policy, or even how many complaints were registered.
  • There is no person at YouTube who the No on Question 3 Campaign and I can find to talk to.

Under the First Amendment, in a public forum, which YouTube surely is, the most protected and sacred speech involves the expression of political ideas. Two days before an election, YouTube unilaterally removed a video that would qualify, under any definition, as an appropriate expression of political ideas. This interference in the political process by an internationally known communication forum – at a time when the public sentiment against Question 3 is shifting – warrants skilled and committed investigation.

I have stated all along that Question 3 has never been about medicine. It has been about money and markets, and it has been fueled by an out-of-state insurance industry executive to the tune of $1 million, which has been documented openly in the public record. How the simmering prospect of defeat at the ballot box for medical marijuana in Massachusetts would lead to a decision to suppress a 3-minute video by a major entity like YouTube demands an answer.

We agree — and we demand that answer of YouTube and its parent company.