YouTube’s Censorship of Anti-Islam Video Raises Numerous Questions Around Online Free Expression

Re-Published from eff.org (Creative Commons)

Written by Jillian C. York.

The reactions over the past week to a video, ‘The Innocence of Muslims’—made by an Egyptian-American Christian and later shown by Egyptian television, sparking riots—have varied wildly. While some governments have banned YouTube (where a trailer of the video remains available) altogether, YouTube chose on its own volition to block access to the video in Egypt and Libya. Other countries have submitted legal requests for YouTube to block the video, to which the company has complied. The fact that the video seems to have been made for the sole purpose of angering Muslims has caused some to ask if it would pass the free speech test in the United States, while others have defended the video as protected speech.

These events raise a number of questions about the limits of online free expression. As EFF’s Eva Galperin wrote for TechCrunch, one concern is the fact that the White House reportedly asked YouTube to review the video to ensure its compliance with the company’s terms of service. While it does not seem that the White House’s request was anything more than just that, as Galperin commented to Politico: “[W]hen the White House calls and asks you to review it, it sends a message and has a certain chilling effect.”

A second concern is the apparent fact that, in making their decision to censor in Egypt and Libya, YouTube did not consult with local civil liberties groups in either country. Whereas the later blockages—in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and by the time of publication, perhaps elsewhere—were determined by a local court in each respective country, the decision to block the video in Egypt and Libya was determined solely by a company in the United States with presumably no local expertise. Given the freedoms that Egyptians and Libyans risked their lives for during the uprisings of 2011, it is a shame that a Western company would serve as arbiter of what they are and are not capable of viewing online.

YouTube’s actions also serve as a reminder that the Internet, what we often think of as the “new public sphere,” is not, in fact, public. As Andrew F. Sellars of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Citizen Media Law Project wrote this week, we must recognize “a few critical consequences of allowing speech to be judged by private parties,” namely:

1) The fact that the leading American Internet companies have set the bar for free speech lower than the First Amendment. 2) That placing private organizations in the position of arbiter leaves us with no formal remedy should we feel that a decision is unfair, and 3) There is nothing to keep the free speech practices of these companies from changing without warning, and nothing that requires consistency from them.

In other words, while it may be that this case was exceptional, there is nothing to prevent YouTube from making similar decisions in the future.

We are also, of course, concerned about the fact that several countries have either ordered the video blocked or have blocked YouTube entirely. Thus far, the video is inaccessible in at least eight countries, with threats from others to censor in the coming days. We will continue to track instances of censorship and present them on the Deeplinks blog.

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Posted in Internet Censorship
5 comments on “YouTube’s Censorship of Anti-Islam Video Raises Numerous Questions Around Online Free Expression
  1. curtisneeley says:

    Neeley Jr v FCC et al, (5:12-cv-05208)
    Google Inc (YouTube) controls most internet wire and radio communications and it is nice that they let us use internet wire and radio communications some too.

  2. curtisneeley says:

    18. The Supreme Court was just as wrong in ACLU v Reno (1996) as the Supreme Court was in Susan B. Anthony v United States (1873). This error has been used by Google Inc, Microsoft Corporation for ridiculous profits and the FCC has used ACLU v Reno (1996) to allow unsafe free speech counter to 47 USC §151.

    19. Angry Muslims have responded inappropriately to unsafe free speech allowed to be delivered by wire and radio communications by the malfeasant FCC counter to the Communications Act of 1934.

    20. Unsafe speech made in the Plaintiff’s past and now repeated by various parties uninvited, including Microsoft Corporation and Google Inc, must not be allowed to continue in the Western District of Arkansas or one of the first states to use cable television wires left unregulated by the FCC due to the local terrain.

    http://www.curtisneeley.com/FCC/booklet-complaint.htm#page18
    Can you find the YouTube censorship in the amended complaint?

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