The company also said Friday that it had blocked access to the video in India and Indonesia because it violated local laws.
These actions came after Google temporarily blocked the video on Wednesday in Egypt and Libya of its own volition — not because it violated laws or YouTube’s terms of service — an extraordinary measure that it said it took in response to the delicacy of the situation. The video is accessible in the rest of the world, even as protests spread to nearly 20 countries, from North Africa to Indonesia.
Google said its decisions were consistent with a 2007 policy for controversial content in which the company would take into account not just laws and its own policies, but cultural norms.
“One type of content, while legal everywhere, may be almost universally unacceptable in one region, yet viewed as perfectly fine in another,” Rachel Whetstone, senior vice president for communications and public policy at Google, wrote in the 2007 policy. “We are passionate about our users, so we try to take into account local cultures and needs.”
YouTube said it was continuously monitoring the circumstances in other countries.
The controversy over the video has raised questions about the role of Google in governing free expression by determining which content is acceptable to show online and which is not.
The company does not police videos uploaded to the site because of the sheer volume involved; 72 hours of videos are uploaded each minute. It reviews videos only if users flag them as inappropriate or if it receives a valid court order or government request to remove them for violating the law.
That was the case in India and Indonesia, which have laws restricting content that provokes enmity.
Also, Google removes illegal content only in the 45 countries in which it has local Web sites, which include Egypt, Indonesia and India but not Libya, Pakistan or Afghanistan.
“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,” YouTube said Friday in a statement.
“At Google we have a bias in favor of people’s right to free expression in everything we do,” Ms. Whetstone wrote in Google’s 2007 policy. “But we also recognize that freedom of expression can’t be — and shouldn’t be — without some limits. The difficulty is in deciding where those boundaries are drawn. For a company like Google with services in more than 100 countries — all with different national laws and cultural norms — it’s a challenge we face many times every day.”
Meanwhile, a Facebook spokeswoman confirmed that the company had restricted access to a link to the film in Pakistan, at the request of its government.
Kevin Bankston, director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit group that focuses on digital civil liberties, said that Google, as a private company, could decide what was appropriate on its sites and what was not. But he added, “Considering the power that many of these platforms have, it’s important for them to be as clear and transparent as possible about those decisions.”
– NY Times