Google Blocks Anti-Islam Video in Egypt and Libya; Sparks Debate on Free Speech

The behemoth search engine Google made the controversial decision Friday, Sept. 14 to block the anti-Islam "Innocence of Muslims" video in Egypt and Libya, where protests continue over the film's offensive portrayal of the Muslim religion's prophet Muhammad.

Google's decision to block the film in these countries sparks a larger debate on free speech versus hate speech, one which Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who promoted the film, is involved in.

Google, which owns the video sharing website YouTube, reportedly chose not to take the video down from its main search engine site because it does not, by Google's definition, fit into the description of "hate speech," but chose to block the video's YouTube access in Egypt and Libya due to current international events.

"This video – which is widely available on the Web – is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube," Google said in a statement to The New York Times. "However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries."

Google's choice to restrict the access of "Innocence of Muslims" in both Egypt and Libya brings up questions of free speech.

Some critics argue that Google, because it is the provider of information, may use its own discretion to post what is appropriate and inappropriate.

"Google is the world's gatekeeper for information so if Google wants to define the First Amendment to exclude this sort of material then there's not a lot the rest of the world can do about it," Peter Spiro, a constitutional and international law professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, told The New York Times on the morning of Sept. 14.

Others, however, including GOP candidate Mitt Romney, slammed the Obama administration and U.S. embassy and Cairo for their responses to the Libya and Egypt attacks, saying that President Barack Obama should have focused more on America's free speech principles instead of chastising the video.

"It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks," Romney said in a statement following the Sept. 11 embassy attacks.

One main figurehead in this debate is controversial pastor Terry Jones, who promoted the "Innocence of Muslims" film on Sept. 11, 2012 along with his annual "Judgment of Muhammad Day."

Jones has been known in the past to stir controversy among the Muslim population, sparking riots in 2010 when he burned a Quran. Many Christians have spoken out against Jone, distancing themselves from his' extreme practices.

Proponents of Jones argue that the pastor, although controversial, has a right to freedom of speech as an American. Others, however, argue that a distinction must be made between free speech and hate speech resulting in violence.

"I don't think speech can be limited, to say OK, if I say this, then this could happen. I believe we absolutely don't have that responsibility," Pastor Jones told The Daily Beast on Sept. 13.

Others, however, argue that when innocent lives are lost, those seen as an accessory to the violence should be prosecuted.

American political commentator Mike Barnicle suggested on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice prosecute Pastor Jones for the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who was killed after a grenade his the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on Sept 11.

"It might be time for the Department of Justice to start viewing his role as an accessory before or after the fact," Barnicle said.

The film "Innocence of Muslims," which was promoted by Jones and directed by California-based Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, caused angry protesters to storm the U.S. embassies in Cairo and Benghazi on Sept. 11. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed at the Benghazi Embassy as a result of smoke inhalation after a grenade was launched at the embassy.

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