Google and Internet Freedom Part II (It Could Be Worse)
Yes, Google currently holds power of regulating speech through YouTube. And yes, Google shapes the way they control speech by using the American ideal of free speech. Their policy is designed to give Google a very limited approach to regulation. In fact, one could argue that since they follow other governments’ laws, other nations are actually the checks and balances for this company. Whether they should have this power is irrelevant, because it already lies in their hands. What is worrisome is how a government or a company decides to regulate their power of speech.
Recently the video, The Innocence of Muslim was tied to the violence occurring in Libya and other countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, as Grace posted about earlier this week. YouTube hosted the video, but decided to take down the video in Egypt and Libya even though they had already determined that it did not violate their terms of service. Why did Google decide to violate its normal ways of regulating YouTube? They issued a statement saying these were extenuating circumstances. In this case, the fact that violence was tied specifically to this video shows that Google tried to make the situation better with the options that were available to them. Other countries, including the U.S., requested that Google remove the video from YouTube, and were denied. Numerous countries that made this request did not have any violence occurring that was tied to the video. Not to mention, Google rarely ever complies with such requests, so any acquiescence would have been unusual. If Google had complied, their role in regulation would increase, which evidently Google wants to prevent.
Other videos exhibiting acts of violence like the video showing the former U.S. Ambassador to Libya moments before his death have also not been taken down. You may wonder if this maybe classifies as an extenuating instance, but this video has not incited violence nor is it hate speech. Taking down videos like this could make Google more susceptible to the numerous requests they receive concerning the removal of videos. While legally Google does have the right to take down any video, whether they use it or not people are similarly free to use Google’s services or not. I feel that Google has chosen to give the power back to the people as much as possible through their lack of interfering with what is posted on Youtube. Having the video on YouTube, doesn’t force anyone to watch it. Google leaves it up to the current laws of a nation and the choices of its people to regulate.
Google’s business and moral interests are in alignment: they largely do not want to control speech. They’ve mostly taken a hands-off approach to regulation that coincides with the country the company originated in. Some incidences occurred where Google played the moral police in subtle ways, like in the case of Ashley Madison website. Google removed this website which helps to facilitate extramarital affairs, from autocomplete – making it more difficult to find unless you know what you’re looking for—and blocked its ads in the Google Content network. Google had no right to begin blocking their ads or the website and should have followed their own rules of taking smaller role in regulating speech. Look at it this way, if Google took a more active stance in regulation everyone would be aware of the beliefs of the people in charge. If they were homophobic, chances are all of the videos concerning homosexuality would be removed. If they were religious, anything that violated their beliefs could be removed. If they hated violence, perhaps the Call of Duty commercials would no longer exist on YouTube. Wouldn’t you rather they took a hand-off approach to regulation except for extenuating incidences like The Innocence of Muslims video?