Wikileaks Exaggerates Story About State Department Working With Google To Block Video

from the slow-down-folks dept

Just to be clear on a few things before I get into the meat of this post. (1) I tend to be a supporter of Wikileaks and its goals to help whistleblowers reveal important information, (2) I'm flabbergasted that Hillary Clinton would use a private server for her emails, (3) I think YouTube made a big mistake in blocking the ridiculous Innocence of Muslims video in various countries, and (4) I'm very concerned about public officials meddling in the affairs of companies in telling them to block certain content.

Given all that, I was quite intrigued when Wikileaks tweeted out a story this morning claiming that a recently released Clinton email "reveals that Hillary worked with Google's CEO to keep" the "Innocence of Muslims" video blocked on YouTube. That seemed like a big deal -- especially as I remembered, clearly, Google putting out a statement about all of this and rejecting the White House's request to censor the video. The problem, though, is that Wikileaks' tweet is vastly overstating the reality.
The emails, which are also embedded below, don't seem to reveal nearly as much as Wikileaks would like them to say. First off, it's important to understand the timeline. The attack in Benghazi, Libya, happened on Tuesday September 11, 2012. By Wednesday, September 12, people were already (probably inaccurately) blaming the YouTube video which purported to be a "trailer" for a movie called "The Innocence of Muslims," which was a stupid and ridiculous video that mocked Islam (and eventually led to a whole different kind of legal fight involving copyright).

By Friday September 14th, there was widespread discussion about what Google/YouTube should do about this video, when (1) the White House confirmed that it had asked Google to "review whether the clip violated its policies" and (2) Google had announced that it would not block the video in the US, but would restrict access in Libya, Egypt, India and Indonesia. At the time, we argued this was a mistake by YouTube to take the video down at all.

So, by September 14th, it was now publicly known that the White House had asked Google to review the video and that Google had agreed to take it down in some countries, but leave it up in the US.

That brings us to the emails in question. The first is just an email from Denis McDonough, who was then the Deputy National Security Advisor (prior to becoming Obama's Chief of Staff), emailing a few people the phone numbers of both Google CEO Larry Page and then YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar. That email is on September 27th -- or basically two weeks after everything above had been confirmed.

The second email, sent an hour later, is from Nora Toiv, who worked for Clinton, responding and saying that "Sue just called back and the block will stay through Monday. They will not/not be unblocking it before then." It's not entirely clear who "Sue" is, but obviously someone who works at Google/YouTube. As a guess, it may have been Susan Wojcicki who is the current head of YouTube. She wasn't back then, but she was still a high ranking Google exec who had been involved with Google Video and the purchase of YouTube at the beginning, so it's possible she is the person in question.

Still, for all of the hubbub about this email, it doesn't seem to come even remotely close to revealing anything along the lines of what Wikileaks is implying. Again, this email was two weeks after it had already been confirmed that the White House had asked Google to review the video and Google had already publicly discussed its decision. At most, the email just reveals that people in the government were wondering if Google was planning to remove the geoblock in places like Libya and Egypt in order to be ready in case anything happened because of it.

I still think it was wrong for the White House to reach out and ask YouTube to review the video in the first place. And that it was wrong for Google to block the video in some places. But this email doesn't appear to be a smoking gun of Clinton "working with Google CEOs to keep Benghazi video blocked" as Wikileaks claims. It seems to be someone from the State Department reaching out to find out when the block might be lifted -- which, if anything, suggests that Google was making the decision on its own, rather than at the White House's request.

I'm all for revealing officials meddling in internet platforms and trying to get content blocked. That's bad news and we should discuss it and highlight it. But raising false alarms over things that aren't really there just makes you look like a tinfoil hat wearer. It's not worth it.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 11:47am

    "I always side with Wikileaks, as long as they don't say anything bad about Facebook or Google"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 12:08pm

      Re:

      "And that it was wrong for Google to block the video in some places."

      I think you must have skipped over reading this part.

      Either that or you've already made your own conclusions long ago and are failing to update them based on new information.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 12:30pm

    Does techdirt think any of these Department of Defense documents are overstating the administration's knowledge of what went down even as they colluded with google and youtube to block a video they knew was not responsible for the attacks? This was an administration that had claimed al qaeda was basically destroyed with the death of Bin Laden. They were also running arms to Syria out of the port of Benghazi. Can't have both of those things public, so lets attack freedom of expression. What a pathetic piece of apology this column is.

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pgs.-394-398-396-from-JW-v-DOD-and-State- 14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version2.pdf

    http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015 /05/Pgs.-1-3-2-3-from-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version1.pdf

    http://www. judicialwatch.org/press-room/press-releases/judicial-watch-defense-state-department-documents-reveal -obama-administration-knew-that-al-qaeda-terrorists-had-planned-benghazi-attack-10-days-in-advance/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 1:37pm

      Re:

      I think you missed the point: Mike is calling out WikiLeaks because they're misconstruing evidence to make a bigger story. Nobody's denying what actually went down, but wouldn't we all be better if we focused on that instead of being distracted by things that didn't actually happen? As the links you posted point out, there's already enough on the table that's backed by solid evidence.

      The State Department colluding with YouTube is something that people would *like* to believe happened, but the evidence shows that it probably didn't. Not for a lack of trying on the State Department's side though, and Google did eventually cave in some instances.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 2:14pm

      Re:

      Does techdirt think any of these Department of Defense documents are overstating the administration's knowledge of what went down even as they colluded with google and youtube to block a video they knew was not responsible for the attacks?

      You realize none of that has to do with anything in this post, right? All I'm talking about is whether or not the evidence revealed today shows that Google and the WH colluded to take down the video -- as claimed by Wikileaks.

      The evidence you've presented is solely about what the USG knew about the attacks. That has nothing to do with the question here.

      What a pathetic piece of apology this column is.

      Yeah, okay. Sorry I posted actual facts and supported my position and you ran with it and pretended something totally different. That's on you buddy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 6:39pm

      Re:

      How much they pay an hour for you to turn out crap propaganda?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:42pm

    "It seems to be someone from the State Department reaching out to find out when the block might be lifted -- which, if anything, suggests that Google was making the decision on its own, rather than at the White House's request."

    Wikileaks may have overstated things here, but maybe so does this sentence. I don't think you can say that this email suggests this wasn't done at the White House's request. We *know* the White House requested the video be reviewed, and from that alone I think we have to infer a request to take it down and keep it down. The government doesn't generally ask a site to review a video unless they want action taken, right?

    The fact that they wanted confirmation that the video would stay down does not imply Google was making the decision entirely on its own. I mean, if the government ordered/requested/threatened/suggested/etc. Google do this, they'd still want confirmation that the order/request/threat/suggestion/etc. was being carried out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    butlincat, 18 Mar 2016 @ 7:19pm

    WIKILEAKS + THAT WHITE HOUSE

    Surely once White House high-flyers make their feelings known to their chums Google et al a line is set that reverberates all the way down to where no man will go...and back again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 7:43pm

    I like this post, it's really too bad that not all the lights have come on however.

    Wikileaks has chosen a topic, a subject, and a person to not just report on, but to go after. It's a critical time in the election cycle, and perhaps in their excitement to try to nail someone they have massively overdone it.

    It begs the question: How many other times have they done the same and not been caught at it?

    WIkileaks is showing themselves for what they really are, not an organization dedicated to the truth, but an organization with a political and economic agenda and a willingness to stretch the truth to get to it. They are no more of a media organization that a SuperPAC at this point.

    Wikileaks, great concept ruined by a cult of personality and personal hatred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 19 Mar 2016 @ 7:21am

    It is really disappointing to see Wikileaks become yet another political tool. I always respected their unbiased approach to revealing facts. Now, they're no different than the Drudges and Breitbarts of the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2016 @ 7:06am

    Minor point

    It's not entirely clear who "Sue" is, but obviously someone who works at Google/YouTube.
    Well, if it is 'not entirely clear' then it can't be 'obvious', can it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    asd, 23 Mar 2016 @ 5:50am

    Official request to review was only to be protected to be associated. Private conversation with "sue" was about keeping the video online finally.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    adam wallace, 7 Apr 2016 @ 4:14pm

    Seems like an honest tweet

    Clinton email reveals that Hillary worked with Google CEOs to keep #Bengazhi video blocked -

    I don't see where "they" exaggerated? Certainly, some jumped to conclusion. But the tweet was a simple and it was true, and left everyone to use information for themselves. Did they have an agenda in this? maybe, but the exaggerations seemed to be in the reaction to this post.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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