“Outrage” is the operative word in regard to the anti-Islamic video Innocence of Muslims, which depicts the prophet Mohammad in an offensive and degrading way. Protests have sparked throughout the Middle East in retaliation, some peaceful and some violent, contributing to the massive media coverage of the events. Depiction of Mohammad in any form can be considered blasphemous for many Muslims, so it is no wonder that Innocence of Muslims created the reaction that it did. The aftermath of the video has also caused controversial debate on the free speech front when it comes to censorship and its connection to Google and the company they own which hosts the video, YouTube.
YouTube has done wonders for protest representation in the past five years; it acts as a platform for free speech across the globe. Google was founded upon the idea of free speech, initially adhering to their mantra “don’t be evil” and always put the user’s needs before the advertiser’s. Google’s hosting of user-generated content takes up such a huge chunk of the Internet that any form of censorship is seen as a huge deal. The company received a request from the White House to remove the video, but Google refused. Instead, the video was blocked in countries like Egypt, Libya, Indonesia and India. The ruler of Saudi Arabia threatened to block access to YouTube entirely if Google did not comply with his demands to block the video. Foreign governments may block YouTube entirely, but they typically formally request that Google block a particular video first. Google will block a video only if it complies with written requests by governments to block a particular video in their own country or by violating the company’s terms of service.
The film is being framed in the American media as being the sole reason for the massive amounts of violence. Originally posted on the internet in July, the background of the film is extremely sketchy, to say the least. Innocence of Muslims was backed by Christian fundamentalists with a reactionary agenda: to exploit a true anti-imperialist feeling among the Islamic masses. Reactionary agendas play an essential role when attempting to stir up hysteria, which is ultimately used to weaken other revolutions occurring across the Middle East. Calculatingly crude, Innocence of Muslims wasn’t gaining enough attention initially, so it was dubbed in order to be more offensive to Muslims. The film gained attention after an Egyptian TV personality comparable to Glenn Beck broadcasted a particularly offensive segment of the film. The infamous clip stirred up anti-American sentiments that lead to protests that helped the American media form a world entirely made up of Muslim “extremists.” Muslims that react in a violent and extremist way are seen as going against their Prophet’s command; he sets an example of enduring negativity without retaliation.
Al Jazeera estimated that the total number of people in the Middle East that protested was around five thousand. Western media depicts the recent events as a “worldwide revolt” when, in actuality, less than 1 percent of Muslims were outraged to an extremist level over a video that was intentionally created to be hateful and offensive. The Arab Spring provides a much more accurate depiction of a true mass movement. The film was made with the intention to promote violence, to start a reaction, to stir up trouble; it’s simply a hateful film that isn’t reflective of anything genuine. It endangers many lives and has already taken many lives during the more violent protests, while peaceful protests are ignored all together.
Currently, YouTube has admitted that the video doesn’t violate its terms of service. This raises a question that could cause some trouble for Google: how exactly do they choose what videos get removed and why? They’ve wavered on their stance in the past, and now, they’re playing the key role of mediator in this situation. The growing influence of the Internet has made Google’s job considerably more difficult. Determining how to handle “controversial content” is an issue that Google is constantly facing while simultaneously attempting to take differing cultural factors into consideration that may contrast with their policies. Acting as such a responsible force in society, Google will now be subject to all sorts of demands from differing parties, and we can only hope they will adhere to what they originally stood for.