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[ NNSquad ] YouTube Blocking the Anti-Islamic Video: Censorship or Responsible Stewardship?

                    YouTube Blocking the Anti-Islamic Video: 
                     Censorship or Responsible Stewardship?  


Piece by piece -- and thanks to the Internet with fair speed now --
the provenance of the hideous anti-Islamic video playing a role in
current Mideast violence is becoming increasingly clear.

It is now obvious that the amateurish production -- given the known
history of the region -- was created specifically to instigate
violence.  But the more we learn, the more evil the undertaking is
revealed to be.

The apparent producer, operating under a long list of assumed names,
appears to have an extensive criminal record for fraud and other
offenses, including multiple prison incarcerations.

When the current violence brought his video into public focus, he
initially reportedly falsely identified himself as Jewish and Israeli,
in an obvious and insidious attempt to trigger violence against those
groups.  Apparently he is neither -- it is currently reported that he
is actually an Egyptian Coptic Christian, engendering fears in that
group of possible retaliations.

Actors in the production have reported that at no time were they told
that the subject matter related to Mohammad.  Rather, they were hired
for a production about life in the ancient world, and the main
character was called "Master George" -- in retrospect just the right
number of syllables for dubbing in "Mohammad" later.  And in fact, the
actors assert that all of the inflammatory dialogue was dubbed in
post-production without their knowledge nor consent.

It's difficult to imagine a more sordid scheme to inflame known
passions and trigger terrible violence.

It is inappropriate at this time to argue about whether or not such a
film should actually trigger such reactions.  Comparisons to comedic,
satiric, or even controversial dramatized films or television programs
regarding various religions are largely orthogonal now.  None of the
examples being mentioned in some quarters were totally without any
artistic or scholarly merit -- unlike this production -- nor were they
designed (as the video was) specifically to set fire to an area of the
world already on an emotional knife's edge for many reasons.

The Internet's question of the moment appears to be whether or not
Google's YouTube was justified in targeting blocking of access to the
video in question (specifically in Libya and Egypt) where the related
violence has been most serious so far.  Some observers, including
people I much respect, have been critical of this decision.

I'm forced to respectfully disagree with those critics.

Anyone who knows me knows that you'll be hard pressed to find anyone
more dedicated to freedom of speech than I am.  And I've long asserted
that attempts to effectively censor material on the Internet are
doomed to failure and often counterproductive even to the stated
intentions of the would-be censors.

But there are no absolutes in life other than death, and here we have
a prime example.

It's a well-known principle that purposely and falsely yelling "fire"
in a crowded theater is not an acceptable exercise of free speech.

But if a natural gas leak is feeding the flames in a burning building,
putting lives genuinely at risk, it can be entirely appropriate to
temporarily cut off that gas supply.  It may not stop the fire
entirely, but it will stop feeding the conflagration.  This doesn't
mean you're cutting off the gas for the entire world.  It doesn't mean
you'll never turn the gas back on to that building again after it is

It simply means you're taking steps to help save lives right now in an
extraordinary situation.

This in my view is what Google has responsibly done in this case.

I've worked enough with Google to have some inkling about the rigorous
discussions that internally drive Google policies, especially
regarding controversial or particularly complex issues.  And I feel
safe in assuming that their decision to block the video in those
specific countries for now, was only made after due deliberation,
keeping in mind Google's long-standing goal of maximizing the
availability of content while staying in accordance with relevant
laws, and their working to achieve the greatest possible public
transparency regarding any related actions.

There will be time later to argue the philosophical questions
surrounding this evil video, its impacts, and the reactions that have

For now though, our number one concern should be minimizing the loss
of human life.  We need to help the situation evolve toward a state
where reasoned discussion can again take place, and the broader issues
brought back into focus.

Google is doing the right thing by deploying tightly limited blocking
of specific content in this emergency situation.  I would do exactly
the same thing.

There's an old saying that "the exception proves the rule" -- and in
situations like this, knowing when those exceptions need to be
employed is a hallmark of being a caring and thoughtful member not
only of the Internet community, but also of the even larger global
community itself.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com):
http://www.vortex.com/lauren Co-Founder: People For Internet
Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org/pfir-info Founder:
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com/privacy-info
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
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