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Free Speech

by Timothy Geigner

Filed Under:
egypt, free speech, islam, libya, video, violence

google, youtube

YouTube Restricts Access To Anti-Islam Movie Trailer In Egypt And Libya

from the head-meet-sand dept

Unless you have been living under a rock the past few days, you're likely aware of the violent protests in Egypt and Libya on American missions which have resulted in several deaths, including that of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The apparent flashpoint for these protests was a movie trailer on YouTube for what is by all accounts a horribly offensive and insensitve film about Islam and the Prophet Mohammed. We've seen similar stories in the past over website content, but this incident takes things to a whole new level.

Today we learned that YouTube has taken the step of restricting access to the video in question in both Egypt and Libya. When asked about it, YouTube responded with the following statement.

"We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions," YouTube said by e-mail. "This can be a challenge because what's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.

This video -- which is widely available on the Web -- is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries."

While I understand why YouTube is doing this, I think it's misguided for two reasons. First, stupid and hateful as the video in question reportedly is, blocking access (potentially seen as taking it down in Egypt and Libya) can be interpreted to mean that the fault for what's happening is in part with the video itself. It isn't. The guilt for this violence is not in some stupid video. It isn't even in the massive protests in the Muslim world against the video (though I'd probably suggest they learn about the Streisand Effect). The guilt for the violence and death belongs on the thugs and murderers who committed it. End of story. This is especially true when the company has acknowledged itself that the video does not violate YouTube's terms of service.

The EFF agrees.

It is easy to understand why YouTube might feel compelled to act in response to the rioting over this video, especially after three U.S. embassy employees were killed in the Libyan city of Benghazi, but the blame for the violence lies not with the video, but with the perpetrators. Once YouTube has made the decision to pro-actively censor its content, they start down a slippery slope that ends in YouTube Knows Best moral policing of every video on their site. It is disappointing to see YouTube turn its back on policies that have allowed it to become a such a strong platform for freedom of expression. We hope that this new-found enthusiasm for pro-active censorship is a temporary aberration rather than a sign of things to come.
The second reason is that YouTube's move is almost certainly equal parts too late and ineffectual. As the company's statement itself noted, this video is and already was all over the internet. Censoring the video now is a bit like covering your ears and eyes as your house burns around you. The problem of religious intolerance and violent reactions to it is going to exist whether you acknowledge it's there or not. Nobody is served by trying to pretend the hateful attitudes in the video don't exist. And it isn't like the protests have ceased now that YouTube has restricted access in those countries. The cat is already out of the bag. All you've done now is open the door to blocking videos based on people deciding to be offended with little to no effect on the violence at hand. So what was the point?

I'll be clear again: every description of the video in question suggests that it is cartoonishly crafted and inflammatory bigotry. But it doesn't violate YouTube's TOS, it is speech, and taking it down was a poor decision made in fear. That isn't the way I expect a company like YouTube to behave.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2012 @ 11:02pm

    I don't suppose the perpetrators of the violence even considered that maybe, just maybe, their violent acts would only tend to confirm, in peoples' minds, the video's message that Muslims are a bunch of violent savages, whether or not that's actually true?

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