YouTube’s co-founders on Thursday challenged the Pentagon’s assertion that soldiers overseas were sapping too much bandwidth by watching online videos, the military’s principal rationale for blocking popular Web sites from Defense Department computers.
“They said it might be a bandwidth issue, but they created the Internet, so I don’t know what the problem is,” Chief Executive Chad Hurley said with a hearty laugh during an interview with The Associated Press.
Hurley, Chief Technology Officer Steve Chen and YouTube spokeswoman Julie Supan emphasized that the online video company is trying to work with the Pentagon in hopes the military will reverse course or at least partially repeal the ban.
“We’d like to explore what’s at issue here and talk about what we can do to sort out what’s the issue here,” Supan said.
The Pentagon said this week it was cutting off service members’ access to YouTube, MySpace and 11 other Web sites, some of which are used by soldiers on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan to post videos and journals for friends and family back home.
In a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Defense Information Systems Agency Vice Director Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight said the decision was primarily driven by concerns about bandwidth, or the capacity of the Pentagon network to handle data-heavy material such as video.
Company officials said they were especially puzzled by the block because it came just days after the military launched its own channel on YouTube offering what it calls a “boots-on-the-ground” perspective of scenes of combat.
Watching or uploading online video does use bandwidth and can slow or tie up a network, but Hurley expressed doubt that soldiers’ use of YouTube could have any real effect on the military’s massive network.
Chen said YouTube was reaching out to the Pentagon, along with the other banned Web companies, to learn “what it’s going to take to keep the YouTube site up.” He said they were willing to work with the military to install controls on what type of content would be available.
Other sites covered by the ban include video-sharing sites Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos and FileCabi; social networking sites MySpace, BlackPlanet and Hi5; music sites Pandora, MTV, 1.fm and live365, and the photo-sharing site Photobucket.
The block does not affect the Internet cafes that soldiers in Iraq use that are not connected to the Defense Department’s network.
“The overwhelming reaction from the field,” Hight said, was that “they were overwhelmingly supportive of it,” because of the commercial alternatives available.
With 5 million computers around the world, the military’s network is used for everything from ordering supplies to sending orders, providing logistics information, scheduling personnel flights, scheduling the movement of goods from point to point, and other tasks, she said.
“Remember, the people that we’re talking to are people who depend on this network, to get the job done,” she said. “The network is there to make sure the soldier, sailor, airman and Marine can accomplish the mission.”
YouTube itself removes images of graphic violence, such as attacks on U.S. soldiers or Iraqi civilians, from its site.
The company executives said much of that material clearly falls under its policy banning violent, hateful or pornographic imagery.
But they acknowledged that decisions over wartime video present some wrenching questions.
A new Iraqi government policy implemented this month bans news photographers and camera operators from filming bombing scenes, meaning video taken by citizens and uploaded to YouTube could become the only imagery the public sees of such devastation.
“We want to protect the (YouTube) community from being exposed to something violent, but at the same time, we want to educate people on what’s happening around the world,” Hurley said. “It’s hard for us.”
Chen added: “It does (tick) a lot of people off that we take this video down, but it also (ticks) a lot of people off that these videos stay up.”
Users often flag what they consider to be offensive video, and a YouTube “review pool” operating around the clock can pull the images, the company officials said.
In their first extensive interview since YouTube was bought by Google in November, the YouTube video pioneers refused to allow the session to be videotaped.
Apparently sensing the irony — and adding to it — Chen said facetiously: “We wanted to be candid and honest, and we thought the camera would interrupt that.”