[Update: 6:10 pm, Jul 24th. I have learned from a reliable source that in Bellingham both committee meetings and the evening council meetings are housed on YouTube which is a part of the system, On Base/Hyland Software, that the city and many other governmental entities across the US use to manage the meetings and agendas. It seems that this software uses YouTube which, in essence “forces” Bellingham meeting videos and other recordings to appear on the YouTube platform. This is even more disquieting since YouTube essentially controls the viewing platform all our public video although the city ostensibly retains back-ups. I note in a brief web search that not all users of On Base/Hyland Software are pushed onto YouTube as you will find with the City of Sioux Falls (click here) where the system does not seem to use YouTube. ]
“The video of the July 12 regular meeting of the Bellingham City Council was removed from YouTube today (July 15, 2021) for violations of YouTube’s terms of service. (See YouTube’s COVID misinformation policy). The violation occurred as part of testimony shared by members of the public during the public comment period of the July 12 meeting.” [From: YouTube removes July 12 City Council video due to content of public comments]
From what I see at the moment, this is a colossally ham-handed action by YouTube regarding what ought to be obvious even to the most obtuse reviewer: that this is a governmental meeting during which information is gathered and discussed; even incorrect, inane, dangerous, half-witted, or manifestly false information. If truth and fact were required in videos from the dais or commenter podiums of any legislative body on any topic whatsoever, then very few videos would ever get posted. Moreover, the U.S. Congress would have to cease operations, especially given the outright lies and misrepresentations that emanate from that body minute by minute.
More importantly, why have we allowed ourselves to be held hostage by a private website in order to host public meeting and public record content? Is this a money saving measure the consequence of which is that we lose control of our own information? This lopsided and quasi-Faustian relationship ought to be re-examined and severely so. I note that all council committee meetings are posted to a local link at meetings.cob.org. Why are the evening meetings of full council not available in the same manner? I have one suggestion to the city with respect to dealing with YouTube, an entity akin to a spoiled teenager whose wisdom must be acknowledged and whose every command must be obeyed. The sooner the city rids itself of this obnoxious appendage, the better.
[Note: I am in NO WAY condoning the specific content of the highly questionable remarks on COVID that were presented during the public comment period on July 12th. Most were tired, dangerous, and well-refuted claims that did not merit further exposure. But once said at a public meeting and recorded as a public record, the content cannot be altered. This includes the weird and inappropriate reference by commenter Natalie Chavez regarding a physician being “a humble Jewish doctor,” as if this stereotypical description had anything at all to do with expertise or COVID.]
As for our public comment period, it is a vital part of our council meetings. I have seen multiple attempts at constraining it over the past 20 years and all have failed miserably and justifiably so. One might compare restricting public comment to a water balloon when squeezed at one end: the water and pressure will migrate to another end until it bursts. I have personally spoken before council more times than I can remember over the last two decades. Commenting is an opportunity for the public to reach out simultaneously to the council, mayor, staff, and the public without being filtered in any way. Alternatives such as email, letters, phone calls, or texts are just very, very poor substitutes.
From what I have read at the city website page YouTube removes July 12 City Council video due to content of public comments, it appears the council and I have similar thoughts as to the freedom of individuals to speak out at council meetings. This is encouraging. I am not enamored with the suspension of public commenting that has been declared for the 26 July council meeting, but I understand that the council needs to rethink the issues brought up by the mindless actions of YouTube. Perhaps council should consider a special meeting/hearing/town hall on these events in all their aspects. If not, as I said above, that water balloon will eventually burst.
[NB: A video of a county council meeting was similarly removed from YouTube. The county should take similar action and reclaim control over its official records.]
Comments by Readers
David MacLeodJul 24, 2021
YouTube and much of the major social media (Facebook, Wikipedia, Linked-In, Vimeo, etc.) are doing this repeatedly across the board. YouTube is taking down not only city council meetings but U.S. Senate testimony that does not match the narrative the CDC, the WHO, FDA, etc. are promoting. A lot of what they’re taking down might be conspiracy theory bunk, but there is also very reputable, well credentialed scientists discussing science, and presenting scientific data.
But as you said, this is not about the validity of the content, it is about flagrant censorship by private entities as a ham handed way of trying to control the narrative. It’s getting out of control
Thomas R. ScottJul 25, 2021
David, I only disagree that it is “getting” out of control. It is well past that point.
“Disappointing” is a kind way of putting it regarding the City and County depending on YouTube. I have no problem that the City/County chose to save money by originally using this private entity. However, once that entity started censoring content (in part or in whole), the City/County had a duty, required by law, to find another avenue to allow the public to see open meetings, even if it cost more to do so.
The Open Meetings law of this state requires public access to these meetings. Given that the meetings are virtual, the public has further restricted access as it is.
Two days ago, I was told that the City is discontinuing public comment in response. This is ineffective and infringes on the First Amendment right of citizens to “petition government”. Again, this is exacerbated due to the virtual setting. While a pro of virtual meetings is convenience for many and possibly actually providing more access (no longer having to squeeze into a barely ADA compliant setting), a definite con of the virtual setting is that it makes it far too easy for the public voice to be gagged.
If the public comment periods are stopped, that is one example of gagging the public at virtual meetings with little recourse. It is wrong.
Jon HumphreyJul 26, 2021
Great article Dick, I am not going to let the council/mayor off of the hook though. I’ve met with almost all of them over the yaers, with the exception of Dan Hamill who refuses to learn anything new, and talked not just about fiber but issues like data security too. I remember specaifically mentioning to Lillquist, years ago, that free speech and privacy issues would arise if they used YouTube and that there is no need for them to since it’s easy for them to simply post the vidoes to their own site, as they used to by default and still do in some cases. It literally takes no extra effort. The standard video format that YouTube, and most services use (MP4), is just as easily handled by an internal COB server as YouTube. The council should have held IT staff accountable for suggesting such a bad, anti-first amendment, solution but instead they took our rights away instead. I mean think about it, they didn’t just ban speech on COVID Vaccines while they re-evaluated, they banned ALL SPEECH. Again, they used to run their own media server for all of this. Guess it was setup back when the COB had more competant leadership in IT who cared about the little things like the constitution. Also, who the hell is Hannah to remind us that we technically, “don’t have a right to public commentary?” That sounds like fascism to me.
Remember when Eric Johnston tried NOT to record Braodband Advisory Group meetings, claiming it was too hard to do when Zoom litearlly automatically makes a video at the end of the meeting? Councilmember Anderson believed his “extra staff hours” fables, but the truth is it doesn’t take extra effort and they’re always looking for excuses not to be transperant. Funny how this is all happening the week after the COBs exposure with desecrating native American reamins and polluting Padden Creek to appease developers was exposed. Eric Johnston was fired for doing the same thing in Oak Harbor and lying to the council and mayor about it. How did he become our public works director again?
In closing, running their own media server is easy and always what they should have done to protect our rights. The COB does the same thing with forcing people to get Microsoft accounts now just to get public records from requests. They could simply run and manage their own server for that too and used to. It all comes down to lazy, incompetant, overpaid, upper-echelon staff at the COB trying to make everything corporate. Especailly our data.
Dick ConoboyJul 26, 2021
The city has subordinated its rights to a private platform that has the right to remove any content it doesn’t like. Facebook, Twitter, etc. all claim that right to eliminate content and most agreed with that that when Trump and his ilk were banned from this, that or the other private platform. Now it has come home to bite us when we have purposely allowed the city to place itself in the position of being just a customer who can be dealt with as the corporation pleases. We must remove ourselves from YouTube.
Jon HumphreyJul 26, 2021
I agree we must remove ourselves from YouTube, but this alone is not enough. We need technically competent leadership in our government that would not have put us in this position in the first place and that includes on the council and preferably a technically competent mayor too. And no to the Corporate Democrats, Michael Lilliquist is not a tech expert, even when he tells you he is. Yes, he is smart, but I have never seen anyone use their intelligence against the people quite like Michael and being smart alone does not make one a tech expert. You need experience too. The rest of the council should have had enough sense to take, or seek, objective opinions on their use of technology especially when related to free speech issues.
People know I am not a Trump fan, but I always am annoyed when anyone’s right to free speech is violated. It’s always Orwellian. We can argue the necessity of removing speech if it’s truly unsafe or creates an unsafe situation, but it’s always Orwellian to some extent to do so. Let Trump, Ben Shapiro, etc. make asses of themselves, in fact make some popcorn first. As adults we should have enough common sense to seek multiple sources of information before making decisions anyway. Is YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. a parent to all of us now even individuals with high level collegiate degrees in our government? Do we wait for them to tell us what we are allowed to consider, say and listen to? Are we gerbils ladies and gentlemen?
Dana BriggsJul 30, 2021
I sent this to the city and county on JKuly 22:
I have read the information provided at https://cob.org/gov/council/councilvideo and this is my input:
I’m sure you’ll find the right solution. However, even with every other item on your official plates, there needs to be urgency to getting this done and funded, and wean the COB off YT.
Dick ConoboyJul 31, 2021
The two issues raised in my article, the use of YouTube and the question of public commenting at council meetings will be discussed by the committee of the whole on Monday afternoon, 2 August. Click here to go to the agenda.
My article has been sent to all the city and county council members, the mayor and the county executive.
Dick ConoboyJul 31, 2021
As I understand the association with YouTube it is that YouTube is the platform that is used by On Base/Hyland Software which provides the agenda management software for (unfortunately) us and government entities across the US. As with many digital program purchased or rented the user is often unaware what is attached to the software. It is like buying underwear and finding out that the cloth is permeated with undisclosed and noxious chemicals. And if you complain (as we did to YouTube) you will find that you aren’t allowed to do so according the the 10,000 page user agreement that no human being could ever interpret… even a lawyer. 😊