By Sara Wilbraham
In October 2019 a violent YouTube video depicting a superimposed Donald Trump went viral. The video depicts a violent outrage in a church where President Trump targets individuals with logos of media organizations and superimposed faces of various Trump adversaries, including Bernie Sanders, John McCain, Mitt Romney and “Black Lives Matter.” The scene was taken from the action movie “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, adapted with creative liberties and uploaded by the meme account “TheGeekzTeam.”
The video, which was originally posted in July 2018, was shown at a meeting of the pro-Trump group, American Priority, hosted at Trump National Doral Miami which sparked its resurgence. This meeting was attended by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Donald Trump Jr.
Due to the extremely graphic nature of the video, critics suggested that it violated YouTube’s policy against content that incites violence. Their policy states that the company does not allow videos that encourage others to commit violent acts, but those exceptions are made for graphic content that is “educational, scientific, newsworthy, or a document.” That being said, YouTube released a statement that the company applied an age-restriction and warning to the video, but because of the clearly fictional nature of the video, it would not be removed. However, these warnings simply ask viewers to click that they are older than 18, which does not provide many restrictions.
Despite his active Twitter presence, President Trump has not commented on the video, but White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham said that President Trump condemned the video. However, the President’s online base has often resorted to provocative videos and memes attacking his opponents and the mainstream media. President Trump has praised these creators, even calling them “extraordinary.” By giving these meme creators that gratification, one might think that President Trump is essentially promoting such acts of violence.
With the 2020 Presidential Election approaching, videos like that produced by TheGeekzTeam may become more prevalent. These videos certainly bring to light how easy it is to create a controversial and violent video and further, that as long as it meets the standard of “clearly fictional” it will be allowed to be seen by millions.
Although the First Amendment is likely to be invoked in situations such as this, I believe YouTube and other online video broadcasters owe a duty to viewers across the world, but especially young people that are easily influenced by the internet, to restrict gratuitous violence at the hands of the President of the United States, regardless of the fictional nature and particularly when there is a realistic underlying message.
Student Bio: Sara Wilbraham is a 3L at Suffolk University Law School and a Blog Editor for the Journal of High Technology Law. She graduated from Quinnipiac University with a BA in Business Marketing.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.