While Google has turned down a request from the Obama Administration to withdraw the low-budget movie "Innocence of Muslims" from YouTube in the United States, the company has begun blocking access to the controversial film in certain Muslim countries around the world.
That crudely produced video has been uploaded to the World Wide Web several times under different accounts with different titles, and its depiction of the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizing thug who approved of child abuse, as well as its portrayal of Muslims as immoral and gratuitously violent, have been criticized as elements that led to the widespread anti-American violence from Northern Africa to Australia last week.
As NewsBusters reported on Friday, the White House asked Google, the company that owns YouTube, to review whether the film fell within the website's guidelines or if it violated its terms of service, a phrase that usually means the government wants the offending item deleted.
However, the White House's request drew immediate criticism from several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF).
Eva Galperin of the EFF called YouTube's potential removal of the video "an unusual move" since it would take place "without a valid court order."
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.
Soon after, a representative for Google responded that the film 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. This can be a challenge because what's OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video -- which is widely available on the Web -- is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.
Google said it was further restricting the clip to comply with local law rather than a response to political pressure.
"We've restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia, as well as in Libya and Egypt, given the very sensitive situations in these two countries," the company spokesman said. "This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007."
Muslims held demonstrations across Malaysia on Friday, calling for the United States to prevent distribution of the film they said was part of a plot by "Christian extremists."
Cabinet ministers reportedly also demanded the film be taken offline and condemned YouTube for being "insensitive" and "oblivious to the tumult it has caused."
Before long, Google added that it had restricted access to the video in countries where it is illegal, such as India and Indonesia. The Afghan government had already blocked access to YouTube altogether.
On Monday, another spokesman for the video-sharing website told Agence France-Presse that it had begun restricting access to the video the day before since it now had deviated from the site's community guidelines.
These guidelines encourage free speech, but they do not allow videos containing hate speech to stay up on the website.
"When videos breach those rules, we remove them," he said. "Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country, we will restrict access to it after a thorough review."
According to report released earlier this year by Google, the U.S. government has massively increased its requests to the web giant to remove content from its servers. The report did not specifiy fully the nature of most of the reuqests, however. According to a CNN summary of the report, the number of censorship requests increased more than 700 percent during the latter half of 2011 compared to the beginning of that year.
Also, Fox News reported that Wanis al-Sharef, eastern Libya's deputy interior minister, said the attacks were suspected to have been timed to mark the 9/11 anniversary and that the militants used civilians protesting an anti-Islam film as cover for their action.
Not only did the rioters happen to pick the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on American targets on September 11, 2001, but many were already conveniently carrying heavy weaponry like rocket-propelled grenades.