Time to reconsider BYU’s YouTube policy

In Fall 2006, BYU announced a policy that would ban YouTube from campus.  BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins explained the decisions in The Daily Herald: “We use the filtering process for two reasons.  First to protect students from inappropriate material. The other is because of our limited bandwidth. That bandwidth is used for academic purposes.” 


Perhaps in 2006 it was plausible to look at YouTube as a site primarily for entertainment and as a source of inappropriate material.  However, in the time that has passed since 2006, it has become clear that YouTube is not merely a site for entertainment or for viewing content, but also a social site that is facilitating an ever-increasing exchange of ideas.  To block YouTube now means not merely to block inappropriate entertainment.  It also means to remove the ability of faculty and students to be engaged in the production of knowledge that a university education is supposed to further.  BYU students are being denied the academic advantages that YouTube offers students elsewhere: to engage in the global flow of ideas and to have lessons that are enriched by the ability to incorporate the most current media.  


For a long time, we have been able to police what content people see.  We will undoubtedly lose some of this ability if we embrace the benefits that come from social technologies.  But the costs of not allowing students access to major new modes of information production seem decidedly greater than the costs of allowing people over 18 to make decisions about what they view.  Indeed, on sites like YouTube in which participants themselves are asked to police inappropriate conduct, Mormon youth will be expected to participate in deciding what cultural norms we will stand up to enforce.  This responsibility is a far greater moral task than the one presented by older models of censorship in which we were asked to simply not view inappropriate conduct.  We need to trust that they are ready to fulfill this task as social sites become places where we live our daily lives.

Note:  Many other sites, such as Facebook, hulu, and Google Video are available at BYU. 

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  1. I use YouTube in all the university classes I teach. Some things just need to be seen in video form, and other sites like Hulu don’t have the content that I need for my courses. As far as I know, Hulu mostly has commercial entertainment content. Most university courses, mine included, will be niche enough that it really requires a user-created content site like YouTube in order to find the relevant material. Some of the best videos I use are just some kid showing off a demonstration of an abstract concept using legos, for example.

    In addition to home-brew (though outstanding) demonstrations like that, I also direct students to classroom lectures and research talks by others in the field, and demonstration vidoes developed by other professors. In a given course, I probably have between 5 and 10 YouTube videos that I assign as required. I’ll admit to using another 2 or so mostly for fun, but that’s important too, and it’s always relevant.

  2. Srsly. BYU students are being deprived of old Celebrity Jeopardy sketches on SNL. The.rapists for $200, Alex!

  3. Jonathan Green says:

    Natalie, I totally agree. YouTube is the platform for a lot of useful material at the moment, and BYU students should have on-campus access to it. Doesn’t the Church have YouTube-hosted videos?

    The hard part is figuring out how to unmake a rule. Judging by the tenacity of anti-Flower Child dress standards, I’m not optimistic.

  4. Amen and amen. I remember last month trying to watch the Church’s Easter message from lds.org, but couldn’t because it was blocked as a youtube video.

  5. On a practical level, YouTube has tons of great content for education. As a high school English teacher, I use it at least once a day for explanations of concepts, interviews with writers, readings of poems and relevant film clips. As an example, I’m teaching Dickens’ Hard Times, and I was able to show a relevant 10 minute clip from Chaplin’s Modern Times. That would have been a four hour effort otherwise.

    On a more abstract level, how can BYU students be trustworthy if they are not trusted?

  6. While YouTube hardly enforces BYU Dress and Grooming standards, and certainly has plenty material that is deeply objectionable for any number of reasons, it does not allow actual pornography. It seems that it is policed fairly well. (BYU’s own filters aren’t perfect, so it can’t expect total perfection out of YouTube’s content policing.)

  7. “how can BYU students be trustworthy if they are not trusted?”

    Norbert, FTW.

  8. Natalie, great post. I hope this generates a lot of debate and I’m glad you are bringing this up. Are there other major universities that block it? Anyone know?

    “Mormon youth will be expected to participate in deciding what cultural norms we will stand up to enforce.” Well said.

  9. Hulu has inappropriate material that Youtube does not. I find it funny that BYU has not banned it but it has youtube. You can watch The Blue Lagoon on Hulu, among other…shall we say, inappropriate films for the BYU honor code.

  10. Norbert,

    On a more abstract level, how can BYU students be trustworthy if they are not trusted?

    Excellent question. It’s ironic really. The Church trusts 19 year old boys with the salvation of the souls of men, but does not trust 21 year old boys/men with their time spent on education. Frakking ridiculous.

  11. Doesn’t account for the bandwidth issue. It’s easy to waste a lot of time on youtube going from clip to clip, for some reason it’s just not the same with Hulu or Google video. And other time-wasting activities such as Facebook and blogging takes up significantly less bandwidth.

  12. Danger, Will Robinson!!! If you allow BYU students access to YouTube, prepare for a flood of calls to 911 and subsequent police blotter reports of BYU students looking at “booty” on YouTube. It’s gonna happen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    Someone, please, call the Church Lady and stop this from happening!!

    Let’s keep BYU clean and pure. ;-)

    Just say “NO” to YouTube!

  13. Natalie B. says:

    This spokeswoman said that the decision was to keep bandwidth for educational purposes. I think there is now ample evidence that YouTube can be used for educational purposes.

    If there really isn’t enough bandwidth, which is odd given that I know of no other university that bans YouTube, then maybe a compromise could be reached like limiting YouTube access to faculty. But, again, I suspect that now, 3 years after this decision, they have better bandwidth and such a compromise would be unnecessary.

  14. This isn’t just a BYU problem it is the problem of old guard education. I work with high schools every day that have youtube, skype (heaven forbid we try to encourage students to use modern day professional tools), and word searches like “nazi” blocked (even though they are in the state standards.)

    Once people learn that education for the modern world includes teaching people how to use information and to discern from all the junk out there, not just providing them with something that they could look up in .2 seconds, we can actually prepare students for the work force.

    It is a s-l-o-w shift and what will more than likely change it is 1) A demand from the byu profs and 2) A demand from the students. Hope it happens soon.

  15. Natalie,

    You should know that universities the nation over have mulled banning Youtube because of bandwidth problems. Trust me, it really is a major factor in their decision.

  16. I should also add, many universities have been slowly turning to Internet2 for educational purposes. It runs on a totally different line than the regular Internet. I don’t remember if BYU was participating in Internet2. Maybe someone there can tell.

  17. Natalie B. says:

    Okay, I accept that bandwidth might be a problem. But then we really should a) create a compromise situation that allows YouTube in the classrooms if not the dorm rooms and b) eliminate the censorship component from the reasoning.

  18. I’d suggest a trade: why not bar underclassmen from bringing cars to Provo, and in exchange let them have Youtube on campus?

    All those cars cause their own “bandwidth” problems. And sometimes people in those cars don’t simply view inappropriate things–they engage in them.

    Zipcar rules!

    [End threadjack]

  19. Natalie B. says:

    Apologies for my last comment. I didn’t want this post to turn into a debate about what BYU should or should not do. Now that you point out the bandwidth issue, we really should be debating the costs and benefits. So, ignore my last comment. Let’s discuss the bigger issues here.

  20. Natalie B. says:

    Mark B. – I like that idea! Or maybe a cap and trade system for broadband…

  21. John Mansfield says:

    I’m afraid that academic YouTube clumbs together in my mind with medicinal marijuana and Granny Clampett’s rheumatiz’ elixir “strictly for medicinal purposes.” I guess I could get a job in BYU administration. Also note that from the worksite where I am typing this comment, a U.S. Navy facility, YouTube is blocked. Oh the drama! The Navy trusts me to analyze maneuvering trajectories, but it doesn’t trust me not to waste the ministry’s time and paper on internet videos. Smart navy.

  22. I was going to say it’s their bandwith, they can do what they want. But that excuse doesn’t work if they allow any other HD content provider like Google Video or Hulu. The content excuse doesn’t work because Youtube doesn’t have anything worse than Facebook or Google video.

    The University obviously thinks their students are children who aren’t ready to make adult decision.

  23. the church does have its own youtube channel, called “mormonmessages.” they have some great videos posted and a new series of high-quality commercials.

  24. John, my company also blocks YouTube. Thankfully, I can waste all the time I want watching YouTube videos on my iPhone.

    Btw, if the navy is so smart, why do they still make midshipmen wear bell bottoms?

  25. My kids have learned so much science from YouTube it is not even funny. I had never heard of such things as the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt (not to mention dwarf planets like Sedna and Eris) until my kids started browsing for astronomy films on YouTube. (They’ve also learned all of the moons of all the planets and dwarf planets in the same way…)

    You’re right that you have to watch out though. My kids also stumbled on some weird conspiracy theory movies on YouTube as well…

  26. I still haven’t forgiven youtube for deleting my account because Time Warner complained that I had some live clips of Fu Manchu posted.

    FU MANCHU, people. Do any of you know who Fu Manchu are? That’s right, and if you were to ask the band, they’d be *stoked* to know I had live clips of them up on youtube.

    Stupid Time Warner.

  27. +1

    I work at a computer magazine, and we write stories all the time about how Evil China is blocking this or that site. It’s always been a cause for embarrasment that my alma mater was engaged in the same type of web filtering as totalitarian governments.

    And that type of enforcement will never work. At least YouTube TRIES to police its content–there are lots of video sites that don’t, and I’m betting most of them aren’t blocked. If students want to see “booty videos,” there will always be a way.

    If the bandwidth concerns are valid, that’s just sad, and doesn’t bode well for the future of BYU’s telecom network.

  28. And I don’t think the workplace argument works, John Mansfield. The Navy PAYS YOU to work during your workday. A student’s time is his/her own.

  29. Susan M, I can only thank the people of Time Warner for shielding the world from the likes of Fu Manchu. For my money, if it’s not Lawrence Welk or Minnie Pearl, it ain’t worth watching!

    Come on, could Fu Manchu play music while bubbles are blowing across the dance floor? I didn’t think so!

  30. I was at BYU in 1984 when there was a controversy regarding the new MTV channel. My roommates and I had a pow wow where we determined to opt out of the MTV feed. We realized the time suck factor of sitting around watching music videos, and admitted there was some inappropriate stuff that we really didn’t need to be bombarded with considering our individual battles with moral cleanliness

    Shortly after our 18 yr old selves had come to this conclusion, BYU banned MTV altogether. We lived in an apartment off campus, so I am not sure about the behind the scene technical or legal details for such a broad ban. I am however sure about my own personal reaction. It was the straw that broke this camel’s back. I said goodbye to the Y, and honestly never looked back. What a shame that such a great educational institution cannot embrace one of the basic concepts of the religion associated with their school. Has anyone heard of ‘agency’? While I admit to being messed up, I’m pretty sure this is one of the basic principles of the gospel.

    It’s a slippery slope, that mountain of censorship. Let the students learn to stand on their own.

  31. Peter LLC says:

    12: prepare for a flood of calls to 911 and subsequent police blotter reports of BYU students looking at “booty” on YouTube.

    Hmm…fodder for new installments of Police Beat Roundtable; can’t be all bad…

  32. Irony Man says:

    It reminds me of when I attended BYU in the late 80s. Raintree Apartments blocked MTV from our cable offerings, but allowed Cinemax with its late night skin flicks. And by late night I mean late if you live on the East Coast, but in the Mountain Time Zone? Not so much.

  33. Yeah, I agree the censorship aspect of the reasoning is weak. Especially since the statement is old and Youtube has since implemented far more robust means of policing its content that even just a few years ago. But I bet if you were to look at the logs of any large corporation or campus that allows Youtube, for every one person watching a speech by JFK you’re gonna have 100 people watching Cookie Monster sing “Chocolate Rain.”

    I think there is a plugin for Firefox that allows you to gank videos off of Youtube and download them to your machine. You could do this at home and then plug a laptop into the classroom projector and show them that way.

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    Meh. Youtube it totally available on campus. You just have to use one of the proxy servers they haven’t blocked yet (or make your own). Just before finals, I helped a teacher to show a Youtube video for our class. Besides, allowing Youtube would rob students of the thrill of feeling like they’re doing something subversive and sticking it to the man.

    “Mac, we’ll close down Dick and Harry. Seal them off. Put the entire effort into Tom and press on into the trees.”

  35. “to protect students from inappropriate material”

    Whatever. Students will find inappropriate material if they want it regardless of what’s available on campus. Most BYU students live off campus anyway, so they are effectively only “protecting” freshmen. What is the honor code for if it is forced on students?

  36. jjohnsen,


    I was going to say it’s their bandwith, they can do what they want. But that excuse doesn’t work if they allow any other HD content provider like Google Video or Hulu. The content excuse doesn’t work because Youtube doesn’t have anything worse than Facebook or Google video.

    It’s not just bandwidth from the sites, but also frequency. Youtube really is used far far more than Google Video or Hulu. Universities have to increase bandwidth lines every year because of increased use.

  37. I find it amusing that some popular movies can still be watched in their entirety on YouTube (if you are willing to watch them in 10 minute increments).

  38. aloysiusmiller says:

    Is there porn on Youtube? I believe there is a lot of raunch but I thought they were fairly aggressive at cleaning up porn.

    I can hardly imagine that BYU students have no access to raunch. A lot of LDS student videos are borderline raunch.

  39. [warning: shameless self-promotion follows] If anyone, like John Mansfield, is doubting the value of what is on youtube, I invite you to peruse some of the fine examples of education and artistry from our very own church members, that I have carefully cataloged in my series “Dear Elder Ballard: Mormon YouTube Progress Report”:

    Part 1, Part 2, Part 3a, Part 3b.

  40. Speaking of raunchy LDS YouTube videos….Mormons rapping. HOW EVIL!!!

  41. Latter-day Guy says:

    “A lot of LDS student videos are borderline raunch.”

    Examples and links, if you please, aloysius!

  42. What’s BYU’s current policy on filtering books in the HBL Library? Just wondering….. ..bruce..

  43. makakona says:

    #33, yes, you can pull videos from youtube and burn them to disc to be shown via dvd player. had someone do it for me for a lesson this past weekend!

  44. I used to be a member of the research staff at BYU. We asked our college computer overlords very nicely and they gave us a password to override the BYU internet filter. It was quite awesome.

  45. So, what happens if you are watching YouTube on your iphone on campus?

  46. I am a BYU grad, from before the Internet, in 1990.

    My employer blocks both you tube & facebook. Prior to blocking, one time I had spent the day excited to check you tube at the end of the day to view the clip of Pres. Monson’s ear wiggle..and that’s when I learned you tube had been blocked.

    I think they have a good point, there is a plethora of good content on you tube..hymns, funny clips both LDS and non. Some families might communicate some things via you tube (ie a coworker’s family had a brief clip honoring her recently deceased father).

    I think they should allow you tube. Most of these students are good and just want to view the positive, perhaps to decrease some stress in their studies or to view a popular item (such as the Easter Message by PRes Holland that Ben referred to).

    Surely there must be a way to “filter” bad things such as porngraphic/adult content you tube.

    But seems to me they should emphasize the importance of striving to trust these students. The honest faithful student will appreciate it. And those who wish to seek for the bad will find it on their own. (ie the iphone example)

  47. *checks employer access to Youtube* – Blocked.

    * checks grad school network access to Youtube* – Blocked.

    * checks departmental research lab VPN access to Youtube* – Works!

    BYU students need to classify this as a research project to justify the bandwidth.

    Seriously, the “they don’t trust the students” meme seems silly when you consider bandwidth costs and that employers the world over do this.

    They have a hiring freeze on campus, because of economic concerns. I’m a little more concerned about the economic stability of the professors than I am the entertainment of the students, especially when they can just *go home* and watch…

    (Then again, I’m the guy who wrote a letter to my grad school’s paper dissing a proposal to force freshmen to have laptops, since I believe freshman should be forcibly chained to a library carrel for that first year and laptops just give them an excuse to wander…)

  48. You sound like my aunt who recommended I get a slide rule and learn how to use it in case my calculator battery died during a test. =) Instead, I decided to take a second calculator.

  49. A less invasive policy would simply be to apply a shaping policy that limits University wide access to Youtube to X megabits per sec. You could watch videos whenever you wanted to, but you might have to wait longer for them to load during high usage periods.

  50. Peter LLC says:

    bandwidth costs…employers the world over do this.

    Bandwidth is cheap, cheaper than in 2006 (not retail pricing, mind you, but the actual cost of installing your own). Also, students are not employees.

  51. natalie,

    So, what happens if you are watching YouTube on your iphone on campus?

    Here’s the dirty little secret about iphones and other smart phones out there. They cannot be filtered by colleges because they run on a totally different network not hardwired through the campus computer system. You can watch youtube. You can also visit, less reputable sites, shall we say if you really wanted to.

  52. Brian Duffin says:

    Less reputable sites? Does that include your blog? ;-) We’re talking Utah County here, Daniel. :-)

  53. Brian,

    In Utah County, anything I write is less reputable!

  54. “They have a hiring freeze on campus,”

    It’s not just campus. There’s a Church-wide hiring freeze, implemented in January.

  55. klangfarben says:

    Question: Does BYU have a cultural studies or cultural production program? Just curious, because the study of contemporary culture, especially in this age of Web 2.0, relies heavily upon ‘YouTuopia’ as a primary text.

  56. Lulubelle says:

    This is just one more reason why I will do everything possible to ensure my daughters don’t end up at BYU. Good heavens. College is not a place to filter or censor information. If students look at ‘bad’ stuff, well, they are adults so at what point are they responsible for their actions? A university acting as Big Brother completely creeps me out.

  57. Give the IT people at BYU a break! Keeping up with bandwidth and resource demands is a losing battle. It’s one of reasons that I don’t work for a university anymore. You just can’t get ahead of the game because every time the bandwidth gets expanded, students and faculty slurp it up do download even more content. Then when you go back to the administration and say that you need more money to expand network capacity again, the finance people howl like kicked dogs about how ‘that hardware was supposed to be good for three years!!’ It doesn’t matter that you told them that there were no guarantees. They used 3 year ACRS depreciation in their cost planning. So, they say ‘not this fiscal year.’ Leaving you to field complaints about how the network has gone to pot until the next year or you can swing a grant from some IT manufacturer.

  58. Master Shake says:

    I find it pretty ironic that BYU-Idaho allows youtube yet provo doesn’t.

  59. It’s a foolish regulation and who ever instituted it demonstrated they are clearly not fit to work for an academic institution.

    This is vastly different than shutting down P2P networks because they are bandwidth hogs (and 99% used for illegal downloads).

    As a BYU grad, there are quite a few BYU rules I wasn’t necessarily in favor of, but understood and accepted the reasons for them. Such is life and if you go to an institution such as BYU you should understand there will be certain standards or rules to uphold.

    But shutting down Youtube simply restricts free speech. I can’t count the number of old, previous inaccessible videos from commercials to political campaigns which would be relevant for class discussion I’ve pulled up on Youtube.

    This action actually makes my Communications undergrad degree from BYU less valuable if people were to find out about this. Most Universities are embracing Youtube by using the cheap hosting and publishing options for students to create content (it’s quick and easy to post project work). BYU on the other hand shuns it. Because either some technocrat feels it’s hogging too much bandwidth or a prude feels students might possibly be aroused.

    Both of those reasons fall flat on their face, which brings me back to my first sentence. Who ever made (or suggested) this rule demonstrates they are not fit for the job they have.

  60. sam,
    As a private university, BYU is more than permitted to restrict free speech. Whether or not it should is a different, and unrelated, question.

    But even if it wasn’t permitted to restrict free speech, it’s not clear to me how blocking YouTube restricts anybody’s free speech. It may be that it does, but the simple assertion doesn’t make it so.

  61. Lulubelle says:

    I went to BYU for a few years before transferring the another university, where I graduated. I am sooooooooooooooooooooooo happy that BYU is not listed anywhere on my entire resume. While at BYU, I thought it disgraceful that so many thoughts and ideas were not expressed as often as they should be in a university setting– where lively, vocal, diverse debate should be the norm. I was fearful of speaking up about my pro choice leanings because I was too tired of hearing a few brave others do the same only to have most of the class jump down their throats. I felt that thought was stifled at BYU, either overtly or not, at that (in my opinion) has no place at all in a reputable university. And the fact that too many people got too worked up over the most insanely trivial things (like showing too much shoulder or leg on campus) was disgusting. I left BYU hating the school and Provo.

    If bandwidth were such a problem, how is it that most every other universtiy allows it and it’s not an issue? Uh huh. It’s not about bandwidth and we all know it.

  62. I use Youtube all the time in my HIGH SCHOOL language classes. This has nothing to do with bandwidth or budgets, blah, blah. BYU would be better served to just own up to its mission and the reasons behind their decisions, instead of trying to act like a “normal” university. In the world, but no of it. I don’t think they can have it both ways any more. Respected university contributing to the world or CES prep school? You can’t have it both ways.

  63. belledame2 says:

    Breed ‘Em Young University is a joke when it comes to this. I can remember when MTV was banned in the early 1980s. Back in early 1984, I remember one woman was running for a student government office and was reprimanded for calling her campaign the “Culture Club.” And I don’t buy BYWoo’s lame excuse about the band width issue either. Makes me glad to live in the mission field, AKA reality!