A U.S. ambassador is killed in a consulate in Libya, along with three other Americans. Anti-US riots spread throughout the Middle East. At the heart of the unrest is a short anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube.
What should YouTube’s parent company, Google, do? It cannot review videos before the fact, because there are too many of them, and because its system of user-generated content is designed to allow a broader range of expression than the old broadcaster/newspaper model of strict editorial control.
But Google has an elaborate system of review after the fact. After its review of the anti-Islamic video, it made a judgment that the video “is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”
YouTube blocked access in others such as India and Indonesia because it is localized in those countries and received a valid court order or official government notification that the video violated local law. Other countries including apparently Afghanistan blocked access to all of YouTube pending the removal of the video.
The U.S. government asked Google to review its decision to keep the video up, but Google repeated its judgment that the video was within its community guidelines.
The issues here are complex and muddied. Jonathan Zittrain got it right when he dismisses those who think this is a “no-brainer.” What is clear is that Google is in the middle. They have a responsibility to act in the face of this complex mixture of speech that is offensive to some, and yet appears not to violate its community guidelines.
So Google did the right thing by acting. In our system it is their decision, and that’s the way it should be. It has stepped up to its responsibility by crafting a balanced, reasonable response to this challenging situation.
Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology. Follow the SIIA Public Policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy