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.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: benghazi, blocks, censorship, denis mcdonough, first amendment, innocence of muslims, nora toiv, state department, videos
Companies: google, wikileaks, youtube


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. 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/

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.