White House Goes Too Far In Asking Google To Pull Controversial Video

from the there's-this-first-amendment-thing dept

Last week, we reported on Google's decision to block access in Egypt and Libya to the controversial, hate-mongering video that's been cited as leading to the violent reactions in the Middle East. We wondered if this was the right move, noting the seriousness of the violence and the ridiculousness of the video. However, Paul Levy's thoughts on this make sense. While we may worry about what line Google may draw, it is a private company and it's not doing this due to government pressure, but as part of it's own decision:
Its removal is not the same as deferring to government censorship, and as much as I hate to give mob violence the satisfaction of an effective heckler’s veto, we cannot expect that online service providers will never remove material simply because it is deemed offensive by wide swaths of the population. Moreover, I can’t help but wondering if the violent response isn’t just what the film-makers were hoping for. So by leaving the image on its site so that we can understand the controversy, while taking it down where broad access to the material is likely to cause the greatest harm, Google has made a comprehensible judgment.
As such, even if we disagree with the choice, it's a defensible choice.

However, things may have crossed the line late last week. There were reports that the White House strongly suggested that YouTube pull the video entirely. Of course, they didn't come out and say that exactly, but rather suggested that YouTube "review the video to see if it was in compliance with their terms of use."

But when it's the White House suggesting that, it's a pretty clear situation in which the President is applying pressure on a private company to censor speech. Of course, we've seen this before, though not with the White House directly. Four years ago, we saw Senator Joe Lieberman similarly pressure YouTube to start blocking "terrorist" videos on YouTube. Lieberman, of course, loves to pressure private companies into blocking speech. He did similar things to try to censor Wikileaks and even pushed some bad legislation to try to increase censorship powers of the federal government.

Either way, the White House putting pressure on Google has troubling implications, even if we agree that the video in question is a hate-mongering disgrace. As various free speech activists told Politico (link above) there are some troubling implications here:
"There's no indication that the government is questioning the right of these idiots to make that repellent film. On the other hand, it does make us nervous when the government throws its weight behind any requests for censorship," the American Civil Liberties Union's Ben Wizner said in an interview Friday.

"I am actually kind of distressed by this," said Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Even though there are all these great quotes from inside the White House saying they support free speech....by calling YouTube from the White House, they were sending a message no matter how much they say we don't want them to take it down, when the White House calls and asks you to review it, it sends a message and has a certain chilling effect."
Google, for its part, has actually stood up to the White House on this one, and said that it won't pull the clip, though it had begun blocking the video in India and Indonesia, where they determined the video itself was illegal, and the company needed to comply with local laws.

Of course, all of this is unlikely to have much, if any, impact on the violence and anger. And that's part of the problem and the ridiculousness with arguing for censorship. It seems quite likely that a very large percentage of those involved in the mob violence to this haven't even seen the video themselves. Caving in to censorship "hints" from government doesn't actually hide the content or calm much anger. In fact, it's likely to just draw more attention to it. The video is despicable and the reaction to it is horrifying on a number of levels. The loss of life is massively upsetting, especially over something so stupid. So I can certainly understand the instinct to try to "do something," and to reach for the easiest target: censoring the video. But not only would it be completely ineffectual, it opens up a whole host of other problems. Dealing with hate speech by seeking to censor it almost always just encourages more hate speech (and even more idiotic violent reactions). It may be an "easy" thing to do, but it's no solution to deep-seeded problems. It just creates new problems.

Filed Under: censorship, free speech, pressure, video, white house, youtube
Companies: google


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2012 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Terrible and shameful message

    New PC, so I probably have a different icon.

    Seems unlikely? How about this one: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/fineline/vera_drake/
    And did you not read the article? Way to avoid the question. The president's office asked Google to "strongly reconsider if the video didn't violate their policies". If you want to interpret that as "not asking them to censor" then fine, keep your blinders on.

    The action should be condemned. Great. I'm glad we've gotten you to say that we should condemn murder. The situation is at hand is that murder occurred and they're trying to justify it by saying they were offended - and the leaders of the world or their offices responded by acknowledging their offended-ness.

    Now I'll answer your questions.

    No, the president didn't order the takedown. He encouraged Google to take it down. Read the article. I'm not going to relink things that are posted above.

    I feel you are defending the perpetrators of this crime by deflecting the discussion from the murderers to the other protesters. To me that sounds like an excuse. I'll retract my statement and apologize if you can honestly say this:
    These murders were completely unjustified and even if the ambassador himself was publicly mocking Mohammad, the blame would still lie entirely on the murderers


    The embassy posted a comment on its webpage the day before the attacks, attempting to distance themselves from the film. Therefore, your point about no one knowing about it is wrong.

    If you think that responding to atrocities by doing the thing that those committing the atrocities want you to do is not bowing and scraping, then I'm sorry but you're wrong.

    Notice I have not directed one word toward the protestors who did not commit crimes. The people who did commit the crimes are the savages. Their response to things they don't like is to breach a diplomatic embassy and murder the diplomats. That is savage, and they are savages. Throwing up the racism smokescreen to deflect from them is disingenuous.

    No, I don't think we should condemn all Christians if a Christian bombs an abortion clinic. I also don't think we should condemn all Muslims because some commit murder. However, we should ostracize everyone of any religion who excuses murder because they're offended. If a Christian hears about an abortion clinic bombing and says "yeah, they deserved that" then we should condemn them. If Christians protesting at an abortion clinic witness one of their people kill an abortion doctor and do nothing about it, we should condemn those Christians. The exact same thing goes for Muslims.

    No one's calling for war against Islam. I've never said that. Mike never said that. No one on this thread has brought it up but you. Are you really afraid that might happen?

    This kind of thing does lower my opinion of Islam, less because the murders committed the murder, but more because the people present did nothing to stop it, and the men who did this remain at large.

    However, all of this is besides the point. The protesters in this case don't matter to me. At all. They're free to peacefully protest all they want. What bothers me is that there's this call to stop offending Islam because we're afraid more crazies will do more crazy things. And this is not because I'm all for offending religious people - I'm religious and I don't like it when my religion is offended either. It's because crazy people are never satisfied. You cannot capitulate to their demands, because they will just make new ones.

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