School district says public comments ‘presumably’ why meeting video removed by YouTube

(The Center Square) – An Illinois school district said YouTube is removing videos of school board meetings because of public comments about COVID-19 policies, a problem one state lawmaker wants to fix with a bill that he said would reduce social media censorship.

Springfield District 186 representatives said the district’s June 21 meeting was removed by the Google-owned video platform for violating it’s “medical misinformation policy, presumably due to the public comment portion.”

On Monday, Board President Anthony Mares said the school board encourages public comments “but we also desire that the public business we conduct at board meetings be widely available through YouTube.”

“Therefore we will no longer include public comment in our YouTube meeting videos so that public business is available to distant families,” Mares said.

District spokesperson Bree Hankins said the district appealed YouTube’s decision to remove the video, but that was denied.

“This counted as a warning, but further violations could result in an official strike and we would be unable to upload, post or live stream to YouTube for any purpose for at least one week upon another infraction,” Hankins said. “This has happened to other school districts in Illinois and elsewhere.”

“We never regained access to the removed video via YouTube,” Hankins said. “However, we do have the full versions of the board meeting video.”

The district is working on an on-demand option of full board meetings, including public comments, she said.

District parent Ryan Jugan said one of his public comments about COVID-19 policies to the Springfield school board was censored by YouTube. In a statement he said “as a parent [and] concerned citizen, witnessing censorship, suppression of medical professionals, science and data is appalling.”

State Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, filed a bill at the statehouse that he said would empower taxpayers to challenge social media censorship.

“This bill would give just the regular citizens a way to push back,” Miller said.

House Bill 4145 would make social media companies liable with punitive damages for censoring someone’s religious or political speech.

“YouTube censuring the school districts and the responses to the school board meetings, this would be an example of where they could have a vehicle to push back against the censorship of their thoughts,” Miller said.

Miller’s bill would allow a minimum of $75,000 in damages per purposeful deletion or censorship of the social media user’s speech, with the exception of, among other things, calls for immediate acts of violence, messages from a fake user or bullying of minors.

The measure has yet to be assigned to a committee.

When reached for comment, a representative for Google didn’t immediately respond.

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