Censoring Inflammatory YouTubes

The ‘Innocence of Muslims’ nonsense also raises the questions on the other side of the controversy: should the American filmmakers have published the video? Should they have been are allowed to upload it to YouTube?

First: The principles of free speech are pretty clear cut in this case. The video is pretty awful, but does not call for violence towards anyone. So banning such a video would set a terrible precedent. It would allow the religious to censor criticism of their religion… And God knows, the Christian fundamentalists in the USA would relish that opportunity.

However, the question of whether the authors should have made the video is another matter. I wish they had not. They did it for hateful, disrespectful reasons. It comes from a bigoted mindset, and is designed to provoke and inflame. People who make that kind of art tend not to be very nice, interesting, or intelligent. But, to repeat the key point of the article I wrote about Günter Grass for the New Statesman, To say this is an act of artistic and moral criticism, not a statement on the principles of free speech.

Finally: should YouTube have removed the clip or suppressed it in certain countries? They did precisely this in Egypt, I believe. I think that this might be the most interesting part of the whole affair. On the one hand, YouTube is a private company, with its own Terms & Conditions that are distinct from the law of the land. If it wants to set a higher bar for free expression then I suppose it has the right to do that. On the other hand, YouTube has become so ubiquitous that It has become part of our public square, a shared communal space that is essential for democracy. Perhaps it has to act more like a government than a private company, and take a more permissive attitude to free expression.

2 thoughts on “Censoring Inflammatory YouTubes

  1. Excellent article Rob but I don’t agree with you about Youtube taking a more permissive attitude to free expression. I agree we should all be able to say what we want but I think we must take a responsible attitude and in the same way that I would not repeat an unpleasant comment just for the sake of it I think youtube should be able to choose what they accept just as I think the papers/magazine did not need to print the photos of Harry or Kate Middleton. Just because you can it doesn’t mean you have to.
    “God knows”, which God is that?!

  2. Hold on, there’s two things going on here. One is a question of whether “just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to”. Quite. But that principle applies to the author or (as in this case) filmmaker.

    That is distinct from whether YouTube, a separate moral agent in all this, should be proactively censoring videos. My contention is, since YouTube has become so important for activism and democracy, it needs to take a very light touch to how it regulates its content. If something isn’t illegal (child porn, for e.g.) or directly inciting violence (which TIoM does not) then YouTube should leave it up.

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