Skip to main content

YouTube restricts video access over Libyan violence

John D. Sutter, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Film trailer blamed for violence in Libya that leaves U.S. ambassador dead
  • NEW: YouTube blocks the video in Libya and Egypt
  • NEW: The video does not breach YouTube's community guidelines

(CNN) -- YouTube on Wednesday announced it was restricting access to a controversial video that has been blamed for inciting violence in Libya and protests in Egypt.

The video, a film trailer mocking the Muslim faith, will not be accessible via YouTube in Libya and Egypt, the company said in a statement issued to CNN.

"We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions," YouTube said by e-mail. "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. However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.

"Our hearts are with the families of the people murdered in yesterday's attack in Libya."

Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012. Attackers set the U.S. Consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya, on fire on September 11, 2012. The U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed during the attack. The Obama administration initially blamed a mob inflamed by a U.S.-produced movie that mocked Islam and its Prophet Mohammed, but later said the storming of the consulate appears to have been a terrorist attack. View photos of protesters storming the U.S. Embassy buildings in 2012.
Attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Attack on U.S. Consulate in Libya Photos: Attack on U.S. Consulate in Libya
McCain: 'Their enemies are our enemies'
Ambassador killed in city he helped save
Obama: 'Justice will be done'

The video, a 14-minute movie trailer that many view as an insult to Muslims and their faith, was blamed for setting off a wave of violence in Libya and protests in Egypt on Tuesday and Wednesday. An attack on a U.S. consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi left the U.S. ambassador and three other embassy staffers dead. President Obama strongly condemned the violence, calling the attack "outrageous."

Mystery surrounds film cited in attacks

Afghanistan banned YouTube in response to the video, according to reports.

"We have been told to shut down YouTube to the Afghan public until the video is taken down," Aimal Marjan, from the country's ministry of information and technology, told Reuters.

The events raise what's becoming a familiar question at a time when the Internet has become the world's major medium of communication: When should websites that display user-generated content take down material that is deemed to be offensive?

This sort of debate comes up with some frequency. Some people were outraged this year when Facebook decided not to take down pages that supported the man accused of opening fire on moviegoers in a Colorado theater. YouTube also has been criticized for taking down videos showing police brutality and other acts of violence that could have political or journalistic significance. Some of those videos were reposted by the site after further review.

YouTube's online guidelines ban pornography and "graphic or gratuitous violence" and ask the people who upload videos to respect copyright laws.

On the subject of controversial speech, the site says, "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)."

Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said YouTube should not take down the video worldwide but should consider blocking it in specific countries where it's causing violence.

Reaction to anti-Islam film fuels debate on free speech versus hate speech

"Is it good in the short term? Probably not," she said of leaving the video online. "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."

The video could been seen as having news and documentary value, she said, potentially putting it in a category of videos that are allowed to stay on YouTube even though they show, for example, drug use or violence -- acts that would violate YouTube's terms if they weren't newsworthy.

This clip probably wouldn't break U.S. rules about inciting violence, York said, because it does not directly call for people to engage in violent acts.

In a 2010 lecture at a human rights conference, YouTube's Victoria Grand offers further details on how the site policies itself. With 72 hours of video being uploaded to YouTube every minute, the site relies on its audience, employees and computer programs to address and sometimes delete content that is deemed to violate its terms.

To be removed from YouTube, a video first must be flagged by one of the site's users. Computers scan the clip for certain traits -- the first scan, she said, is for flesh-colored pixels -- and then prioritize the videos in a queue, Grand said. A group of YouTube employees, who are positioned all over the world, then reviews the queue of flagged and computer-prioritized videos to judge them against YouTube policy.

"Their job is to spend every single day looking at a queue of what I would define as the dark underbelly of the Internet," Grand said in a video posted by the group Global Voices. "So you're going to see a lot of masturbation videos in that queue; you're going to see animal abuse. You're going to see some pretty, pretty horrendous things. I would say the vast majority of flags we get are for things like pornography."

The film in question is considered offensive to Muslims and depicts the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and killer. The video had about 55,000 views as of 11 a.m. ET Wednesday. It had a mostly unfavorable rating on YouTube, with more than 8,000 "dislikes" to 2,600 "likes." Nearly 9,000 people had commented on the video, and several versions of it appeared to have been uploaded to YouTube.

The 2-month-old film trailer is in English, but it has been dubbed into Arabic. The New York Times reports that an Arabic-language version of the video was taken down from YouTube, apparently for reasons of copyright infringement.

New York magazine called the video "absurd" and "Islamophobic."

The video also reportedly has been shown by means other than YouTube. Part of the film was broadcast on Egyptian TV, according to the Times.

Witnessing protests in Libya or Egypt? Share your photos on CNN iReport.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:36 PM EST, Tue March 5, 2013
Shortly after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, a phone call was placed from the area.
updated 9:07 PM EST, Thu February 7, 2013
A testy exchange erupted between Sen. John McCain and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey during the latter's testimony about September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Thu January 24, 2013
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on Republican congressional critics of her department's handling of the deadly September terrorist attack in Libya.
updated 8:22 PM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
The Pentagon released an hour-by-hour timeline of the September 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
updated 11:13 AM EST, Tue January 29, 2013
Bilal Bettamer wants to save Benghazi from those he calls "extremely dangerous people." But his campaign against the criminal and extremist groups that plague the city has put his life at risk.
updated 8:16 AM EDT, Sun September 23, 2012
Two former Navy SEALs who died last week in an attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya died after rushing to help their colleagues.
updated 10:24 PM EDT, Tue September 18, 2012
The former Pakistani Ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed, explains why an anti-Islam film has triggered massive protests.
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
The fall of dictatorships does not guarantee the creation of free societies, says Ed Husain, author of "The Islamist."
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
Protests have swept the world following the online release of a film that depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and killer.
updated 6:56 PM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
A satirical magazine pours further oil on the fiery debate between freedom of expression and offensive provocation.
Was the attack on the Libyan U.S. Consulate the result of a mob gone awry, a planned terror attack or a combination of the two?
The images of the American embassy burning in Benghazi might have conjured up memories of Tehran in 1979 but the analogy is false.
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Libyan authorities have made more arrests in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate that left four Americans dead.
updated 7:59 PM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
Three days before the deadly attack in Benghazi, a local security official says he warned U.S. diplomats about deteriorating security.
For the latest news on developments in the Middle East and North Africa in Arabic.
ADVERTISEMENT