Google Rejects White House Request to Remove Anti-Muslim Film

Google's decision to leave an inflammatory Anti-Muslim film on the majority of its YouTube sites has sparked intense debate.

As the fallout from an American-made anti-Islamic film mocking the Prophet Muhammad continues to fuel violent protests and riots across the Middle East, Google, which owns the social video site YouTube on which the video is accessible, responded to a request from the White House by saying it did not intend to remove the video, as the controversial film did not violate its policies regarding hate speech. However, the company did block access to the video in India and Indonesia, citing local laws. Google also voluntarily blocked the video in Egypt and Libya, two epicenters of violence which led to the deaths of three U.S. State Department officials and the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.

YouTube does not continuously monitor violations of its community guidelines, relying instead on its large base of users to monitor a massive amount of content; 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. The 14-minute-long "Innocence of Muslims" sparked outrage among followers of the Muslim faith by depicting the religion's sacred Prophet Muhammed as a womanizer and child abuser. YouTube's community guidelines would suggest the film, however distasteful, does not fall afoul of those rules.

"When a video gets flagged as inappropriate, we review the video to determine whether it violates our Terms of Use-flagged videos are not automatically taken down by the system. If we remove your video after reviewing it, you can assume that we removed it purposefully, and you should take our warning notification seriously," the guidelines state. "We encourage free speech and defend everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. But we don't permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity)."

The outbreak of violence and religious sensitivity has drawn the search engine giant into the quandary of when to pull the plug on inflammatory content and when to stand behind the principles of free speech, despite the unrest and bad feeling the content causes. In a CNN report, Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said while keeping the video online would not do any short-term favors for the company (Afghanistan blocked the sites after Google's decision to keep the video, at least in many countries, online), she said the because the film does not incite people to cause violent acts, the film is within the bounds of free speech protection. "Is it good in the short term? Probably not," she told the news outlet. "But for the long term and what it means for corporate free expression, yes, I think it's good to keep it up. It's a difficult balance."