Google said that it would not take down a video published to YouTube that negatively portrays the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. It rejected a request made by the White House to review whether the video violated YouTube’s terms of service.
The 14-minutelong, crudely filmed video, “Innocence of Muslims,” which has been uploaded several times under different accounts with different titles, has helped spark a wave of anti-American sentiment across the Middle East and North Africa. The video depicts Muhammad as a womanizing thug who approves of child abuse.
On Friday, the White House sent a request to Google, which owns YouTube, to review whether the video fell within the website’s guidelines or if it violated its terms of service.
But the website said that the video falls within its guidelines and does not violate its terms of service.
“We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions,” a spokesperson for YouTube said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.
“This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere,” continued the representative. “This video—which is widely available on the Web—is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.”
The company said that it restricted access to the video in Libya and Egypt, as well as in countries where it is illegal, such as India and Indonesia. The Afghan government blocked YouTube altogether.
In its guidelines, YouTube said that free speech is encouraged, but it does not allow videos containing hate speech to stay up on the website.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that after an investigation, there is no evidence that the wave of violence against American consulates and embassies in Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, and other countries was sparked by anything other than the video.
“That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive and—to Muslims,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
However, the White House’s request to Google has drawn criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF).
Eva Galperin of the EFF called YouTube’s removal of the video in Egypt and Libya “an unusual move” and “without a valid court order” because there is no evidence that the governments of the two countries attempted to pressure the company into taking it down.
“YouTube appears to have made the decision to self-censor on their own,” she wrote on the EFF website.
“Once YouTube has made the decision to proactively censor its content, they start down a slippery slope that ends in YouTube Knows Best moral policing of every video on their site,” wrote Galperin. “It is disappointing to see YouTube turn its back on policies that have allowed it to become a such a strong platform for freedom of expression.”
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