After violent attacks on Americans in both Egypt and Libya — including an attack in Libya on Tuesday that killed the American ambassador to that country — Google said on Wednesday that it has restricted access to a controversial YouTube video about the Prophet Muhammad that has been linked to the violence.
According to a statement from the company, the video is still available on the YouTube website, but viewers from both Libya and Egypt are unable to see it. While this may be a goodwill gesture by the search giant aimed at helping to douse the flames of anti-American violence in the Middle East, it raises a number of questions about the company’s willingness to censor certain types of content even when it has not been asked to do so by a government or court. What other things might Google decide to block, and from whom?
The clip that is being blocked is a 14-minute section of a longer film called “The Innocence of Muslims,” which reportedly shows a fictional attack by Muslims on a Christian family, followed by an account of the origins of the Islamic religion that portrays the prophet Muhammad as a fraud and a womanizer. Other fictional and/or humorous accounts of the prophet’s life have also caused violence in the past, including a fatwa or death sentence issued against author Salman Rushdie in 1989 for his book “The Satanic Verses,” and a series of attacks and deaths linked to offensive cartoons about the prophet that ran in a Danish newspaper in 2005.
In this case, the video clip has been connected to the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed on Tuesday in an attack on the embassy in Libya, along with three other members of the ambassador’s diplomatic staff. And in a statement released to the news media, Google made it clear that this is the main reason it decided to block access to the video from viewers in Egypt and Libya (attacks also occurred in Cairo that were linked to the clip). Said the company:
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