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.
, 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.