“Innocence of Muslims” and the freedom of expression: what are the limits?

In September 2012 the film the “Innocence of Muslims” does the tour of the globe on YouTube. The results: the Middle-East is set alight. To mock the prophet Mahomet is a crime for some but a freedom of expression for others. Facing western and middle-eastern outrage, YouTube and Google block the access to the video in several countries. These precautions engender debate. Freedom of expression on Internet and the responsibility of the giants of the web: where are the limits?

  • The “Innocence of Muslims”, an easy provocation.

Badly directed, poor dialogues and dubious effects. The video the “Innocence of Muslims” is a trash on the web like many others and deserves to remain where it belongs: in the bin. But it’s the life of Mahomet we are talking about and the internet did its job: instantaneous information. The movie is translated in arab, posted, commented on social networks and soon enough broadcasted on the islamist channel Al-Nas. The brazier is set.

In no time the muslim world is protesting against the supreme insult. The touchiness of the believer allows the extremist networks to exploit the anger. The riots begin in Egypt and gradually spread over the Middle-East and then the world. The boiling point: the attack against the american embassy in Libya killing the ambassador and three other people.

The outcome: the rubbish “Innocence of Muslims” is a hit. It has been watched by all and is in the heart of diplomatic relations around the globe. The director hit the target: his name makes the front pages.

  • The freedom of expression on Internet, an excuse?

The attacks on Islam have always caused a tantrum. Is it still surprising? In light of this unrest many proclaim the freedom of expression so dear to western democracies. However we are no longer dealing with the old world system. The “Republic 2.0” erases borders. Internet is a network that doesn’t give a fuck about national sensibilities.

The world lies before our eyes but we cannot control it. The western freedom of expression rubs against the muslim world creating sparks. Talking about freedom of expression is one thing, transferring it to Internet is another.

  • The freedom of expression, a theory.

The 6th of July 2012 the Human Rights Council passes a symbolic resolution: the freedom of expression is henceforth established as a universal right. The international community applauds the decision. Unesco is working on an Internet regulation in line with Human Rights. An ambitious endeavor in light of Internet’s disdain of laws.

But in practice things are not so simple. The impact of the “Innocence of Muslims” destabilizes the principles that the international community has adopted only months before. The cause: Google has decided to block the access to the video in several countries. A selective attitude which raises questions.

  • The giants of the web make their own laws.

At the time of the broadcasting of the anti-islamic movie, many governments demanded of Google to delete the video, including the United-States. The answer of the giant of the web was plain: the freedom of expression is its business. Nothing will be blocked. All the more Google and YouTube never advocated themselves as editors but as content hosts. A practical way of removing all responsibility from this type of political attack.

You may not like everything you see. Some of the content here may offend you—if you find that it violates our Terms of Use, then click the button that says “Flag” under the video you’re watching to submit it for review by YouTube staff. If it doesn’t, then consider just clicking on something else—why waste time watching videos you don’t like? YouTube Community Guidelines

But Google changed its mind. “Reports Without Borders” made an inventory of the countries in which Google and YouTube blocked the access to the video. In Egypt and Libya the anti-islamic movie is not available because of the extraordinary situation. In Indonesia and India the video is blocked in accordance with the local regulations. In Switzerland a simple warning appears before the movie.

Have the web companies become responsible? The associations the fight for the freedom of expression on internet do not agree. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) this attitude is dangerous:

It is disappointing to see YouTube turn its back on policies that have allowed it to become a such a strong platform for freedom of expression. We hope that this new-found enthusiasm for pro-active censorship is a temporary aberration rather than a sign of things to come. EFF reactions

Is internet considering censorship whenever it fancies or is it really a question of responsibility? Internet journeys the world much faster than mentalities change. Should we rethink the web, control it or let each one face it with their own sensitiveness?

By Coraline Pauchard

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