YouTube has been very good to Prager University. An online video platform founded by Dennis Prager, a well-known conservative talk radio host, PragerU produces and presents hundreds of short videos in numerous subject areas — politics, economics, foreign affairs, social issues. The videos are engaging and polished, with clever graphics and a wide range of presenters. Since its launch in 2011, PragerU has become a popular and influential portal for conservative ideas and arguments.
Thanks to YouTube.
PragerU videos can be watched on the PragerU website or at Facebook, but it gets most of its viewers via YouTube. The PragerU channel has more than 2.2 million subscribers. It displays more than 600 videos. Each of those videos has been seen tens of thousands — in some cases, millions — of times. Among the most-watched: “Socialism Makes People Selfish” (1.7 million views), “What Does Diversity Have to Do with Science?” (1.7 million), and “Is Harvard Racist?” (2.1 million). All told, PragerU videos get more than a billion views a year.
YouTube has made PragerU a significant player in the world of polemics. A well-funded one, too: It attracts millions of dollars in donations and pays its key employees six-figure salaries. But it pays nothing to YouTube, which allows PragerU to use its online platform for free.
Considering how often Prager has written and spoken about the importance of gratitude, he might be expected to brim with appreciation for YouTube. In one of his videos (985,000 YouTube views), Prager describes gratitude as having an “almost magical” power to improve human society. “Almost everything good flows from gratitude,” he says, “and almost everything bad flows from ingratitude.”
Prager’s gratitude for YouTube, without which PragerU would never have achieved such spectacular success, should be boundless. If he practices what he preaches, Prager should regularly express his thanks to YouTube — and to Google, its parent company — for providing him and his ideas the biggest audience of his career.
He doesn’t practice what he preaches. Rather than voice appreciation for YouTube and Google, he accuses them of censorship.
At a Senate committee hearing in Washington this month, Prager denounced the tech giants for suppressing PragerU’s content “on ideological grounds.” They are conducting an attack on conservative viewpoints, he said, that “threatens the future of America more than any external enemy.” He implied that YouTube’s actions are akin to Nazi repression. The climax of his prepared testimony was a paraphrase of Pastor Niemoller’s famous poem about the silence of German intellectuals before the gathering Holocaust. Intoned Prager: “One day you will say, ‘First they came after conservatives, and I said nothing. And then they came after me. And there was no one left to speak up for me.’ ”
Coming from Prager, a student of Jewish history and 20th-century totalitarianism, there is nothing unwitting about such an allusion. For him, to even indirectly suggest that YouTube and Google are behaving in ways reminiscent of the Third Reich is the rhetorical equivalent of going to Defcon 2. What outrage have the companies committed to deserve such condemnation?
Just this: They limit access to a small number of PragerU videos for viewers who choose Restricted Mode.
That’s it. The Big Tech firms haven’t shut down PragerU’s YouTube channel. They haven’t barred PragerU from producing videos on any topic. They haven’t demanded that PragerU pay for the privilege of being hosted on YouTube.
What Prager blasts as “censorship” is the fact that a few dozen PragerU videos are not shown on YouTube accounts set to Restricted Mode, which filters out material deemed violent, sexual, or otherwise sensitive. Restricted Mode (often applied in schools to keep children from viewing inappropriate content) affects less than 2 percent of YouTube viewers. PragerU videos continue to rack up millions of YouTube views each week. Yet Prager makes Nazi insinuations because YouTube hides some of those videos from the tiny slice of users who opt to be shielded from certain kinds of content.
PragerU has sued Google and YouTube, charging them with “discriminating against its right to freedom of speech solely because of PragerU’s political identity and viewpoint.” It accuses the companies of acting with “oppression, fraud, malice” and claims that PragerU is being “restrained and punished” because of the speakers in its videos.
As a matter of law, this is ridiculous. Google and YouTube are private companies, and if they wish to discriminate on the basis of “political identity and viewpoint,” the First Amendment protects their right to do so. Google and other tech companies are certainly known for their sometimes intolerant left-wing corporate culture. But the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed the right of private entities to reject messages they decline to endorse, most recently in a case decided last month.
But in PragerU’s case, all this is moot. It isn’t being discriminated against. Its videos continue to be offered on YouTube, where they are openly available and widely viewed — including more than a dozen videos attacking Google and YouTube! “Google’s Censorship Exposed,” for example, has been viewed 250,000 times in the past three weeks. “Big Tech is Big Brother” is up to 1.5 million views. “What Happens When Google Disagrees with You?” has 3.1 million.
There may well be problems with the YouTube algorithms that determine which videos to filter in “Restricted Mode.” Prager and PragerU may have legitimate gripes about the company’s objectivity or transparency. But their pose as martyrs to Google and YouTube intolerance is cynical and dishonest. And Prager’s oblique invocation of Nazi persecution is indecent.
Far worse, though, is his sheer ingratitude. Google and YouTube have won for Dennis Prager a larger following than he could ever have achieved without them. Where are his thanks?