Noah J Nelson on Friday, Sep. 14th
Opinions in Game of Buzz posts are those of the author alone.
This is the world we live in.
With violence spreading across the Middle East triggered by a ham fisted video posted to YouTube by an individual whose resume is littered with felony drug convictions and fraud, Google has begun to block access to that video in the countries that are seeing some of the most damage.
What’s hardest to wrap the mind around is that if the video- a trailer for a “film” called Innocence of Muslims (it’s more complicated than that, but for the sake of argument lets run with it)- featured a snippet from a pop song or footage from a television broadcast it would have been pulled automatically by YouTube’s relentless copyright defending robots.
Google, owners of YouTube, are in quite the bind here. As the gatekeepers of information the world over they have elected, when it has been politically feasible, to err on the side of championing American values of Free Speech. Except when those values are superseded by corporate property rights. How a multi-national corporation should behave in the wake of mass violence is an ethical debate topic of the first magnitude.
They’ve blocked access in Egypt and Libya [and don't be surprised if there's more soon], but so far have deigned to remove the video from the site, stating that they do not believe it violates their terms of service. Note that the terms of service allow for the removal of content that is deemed as “hate speech”, which begs the question of whether or not a video that ha resulted in the deaths of multiple people in multiple countries qualifies for hate speech.
Not that removing the video at this point is likely to do any good. It won’t bring those people back to life, and it won’t prevent someone else from uploading a similarly offensive video in the future. The bigger problem here is the clash of world-views between Western culture, which values freedom of expression and a hardline Muslim value set that does not tolerate insults. At all. A world-view that is either incapable or unwilling to make a distinction between the acts of a few bent individuals and that of an entire nation.
Not that anyone in the United States would know anything about that.
What we’re left with is a lesson in the weird algebra of freedom in the Internet Age. Free to offend and be offended, but not free to use other people’s intellectual property. One where we can get obscure content to every corner of the globe, but seem incapable of fostering anything resembling understanding.