In the wake of numerous embassy attacks and the death of American-ambassador-to-Libya Christopher Stevens as well as three diplomats, Google has taken the unusual step of blocking access to a controversial, anti-Islam video in two Middle Eastern countries.
People looking for "Innocence of Muslims" in Egypt and Libya can no longer access the movie on Google's YouTube. However, those outside those two countries -- including other Middle Eastern countries -- can still access the video. (The video has appeared on Opposing Views for the last few days and can be seen here.)
Google has, in the past, removed specific content it considers "obscene" or "hate speech." Yet the Internet giant admits this video -- which mocks the Prophet Muhammad, is neither of those two.
Google/YouTube restricted the video “given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt,” according to a statement on Friday. “Our hearts are with the families of the people murdered in yesterday’s attack in Libya."
But is it the right move?
According to the NY Times: Google is walking a precarious line, said Kevin Bankston, director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit in Washington that advocates for digital civil liberties.
On the one hand, he said, blocking the video “sends the message that if you violently object to speech you disagree with, you can get it censored.” At the same time, he said, “the decision to block in those two countries specifically is kind of hard to second guess, considering the severity of the violence in those two areas.”
“It seems they’re trying to balance the concern about censorship with the threat of actual violence in Egypt and Libya,” he added. “It’s a difficult calculation to make and highlights the difficult positions that content platforms are sometimes put in.”
While the violence is real, some are starting to question whether the film is the real reason behind this widespread unrest.
Robert Wright of the Atlantic writes:
Here is the narrative that pretty much everyone was buying into 36 hours ago: Crude anti-Islam film made by Israeli-American and funded by Jews leads to Muslim protests that boil over, causing four American deaths in Libya.
Here is what now seems to be the case: the anti-Islam film wasn't made by an Israeli-American, wasn't funded by Jews, and probably had nothing to do with the American deaths, which seem to have resulted from a long-planned attack by a specific terrorist group, not spontaneous mob violence.