YouTube may be a platform for self-expression but like all things public, anything you say is open to examination, judgment, and criticism. Recently, it has also become an avenue for the government and police authorities to censor the implied and spoken words and actions of creators.
YouTube censors content that violates its Terms of Service. YouTube is, after all, a private company that hosts videos, and they can host whatever they please. The right to express oneself without being legally punished, however, has always been between the citizen and the government.
Should thoughts, feelings, and opinions expressed on YouTube be punished by the government? How does one draw the line between free speech and hate speech? Should jokes with sensitive subjects be considered hate crimes? This is the story of Count Dankula, a YouTube creator facing jail time for things he said on YouTube.
The Full Story
Scottish YouTube creator Markus Meechan, also known as Count Dankula, published a video of a pug in April last year. In the video, Buddha the pug raises its right leg up to “salute” every time Count Dankula says “Sieg Heil.” The dog also perks up from sleep every time it hears “gas the Jews,” or “Jews.”
The dog is his girlfriend’s, and Meechan, in the video, explained: “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute her dog is so I thought I would turn her into the least cute thing you could think of which is a Nazi.” He also said, “I’m not racist, by the way. I just really, really wanted to piss (my girlfriend) off.”
The dog was also seen watching Hitler and appeared to raise its paw when Hitler said “Sieg Heil.” Meechan was quick to praise the dog, “Who’s a good wee Nazi?”
While some found the video amusing, others thought it was anti-semitic. Soon enough, the Scotland police received complaints about the video and Meechan was arrested.
Image credit: The Sun
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Facing Prison for a Dog Video
Meechan is being charged with a violation of the UK’s Communications Act of 2003 which declares all public communications sending discriminatory religious messages as unlawful.
He is also facing another charge for posting an offensive video on YouTube. If found guilty, Meechan’s sentence could be up to a year in prison.
Is it a hate crime or a joke? Should jokes that are anti-semitic in nature be taken seriously and labeled as crime?
Joke or Hate Crime?
Is it a hate crime to teach a dog a Nazi salute or a Nazi phrase?
The general sentiment on YouTube is that Meechan only wanted to entertain folks with the video, that he did not mean to hurt people and that if people were hurt, the penalty should not be imprisonment. In short, they say that teaching a dog to respond to Nazi phrases and to do a Nazi salute should not be a crime.
People feel that there are more real crimes that need attention and police authorities have their priorities all wrong.
Some are also fearful that anything they say that approaches the thin line of funny and offensive can now be misconstrued on YouTube as pure hate. That if one is not allowed to make jokes on YouTube, a place where most everything is done to entertain people, where can one make a joke?
Image credit: The New Nationalist
They also feel that the objections to the video encroach upon Meechan’s freedom of speech. Still, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities argued that it is hate speech and thus deserved the hate crime punishment. They maintain that if we start accepting Nazi hate speech as “jokes,” we normalize the Nazi legacy.
The belief that it’s ok to make Nazi jokes on YouTube, where most everything should be taken lightly, is definitely not shared by all Jews — at least many of those who are on YouTube. Some apparently even offered to speak their support to the judge (there is no jury for the case) who will decide Meechan’s fate.
Others, on the other hand, showed their support by raising funds for Meechan when he ran out of money to defend himself.
Indeed, Meechan has received more sympathy than criticism on some parts of the internet. People think that it’s a big waste of time and resources of the whole Scotland justice system, especially when there are other real criminals out there who deserve a life behind bars.
History Repeats Itself?
Oddly, Meechan was not the first to teach a dog a Nazi salute. During the end of World War II, a businessman taught a dog to raise its paw in salute at the command “Hitler.”
Businessman, Tor Borg and his dog, Jackie. Image credit: The New York Times
The only difference was that the Nazis, during that time, took it as a mockery meant for their leader, Adolf Hitler.
Today, Meechan teaching the dog a Nazi salute is seen as disrespectful for those who themselves or their families suffered in the Holocaust.
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Is it Time to Amend the Hate Speech Law?
Count Dankula’s video may be offensive but going to jail for hurting people’s feelings may also be a bit too much. We should continue to watch out for offensive speech, but we should also be careful not to overstep freedom of expression and be guilty of the same “hate crime” we’re accusing others of doing.
Moreover, as long as we’re censuring people for anti-semitic messages, should we also condemn jokes about other sensitive subjects like gender equality, human rights, abortion, and all the others? Can we tell people not to make light of the Nazi regime and yet tolerate jokes about gender equality, for instance? It’s either we condemn it all or we don’t.
So, is it time to amend this law and other like it? Share your thoughts with us below.