Hate Speech or Too Late Speech?

In the wake of the uproar over the anti-Islamic video mocking the Muslim religion, the free speech allowed on the Internet in certain countries has come to the forefront.  The Internet is a platform for all to communicate and share, making it one of the largest, if not the largest, forum for free speech.  However, as we recently saw, the video that instigated havoc worldwide is a consequence of this large audience.

Three of the largest platforms for free speech on the Internet; Google, Facebook, and Twitter, each face their own unique challenges in terms of whether to restrict content or not.  Google, the owner of YouTube, faced this towering decision last week.  According to Google, the anti-Islamic video uploaded to YouTube was not hate speech because it did not “specifically incite violence against Muslims, even if it mocked their faith.”  The company subsequently rejected a request from the White House to take down the content.  Interpretations of such hate speech are left to the company because of the lack of a universal definition for it.  Although Google did not consider the video to be hate speech, they opted to block the video in Libya and Egypt because of their significantly dangerous current environments.  Others wonder why Google decided to only restrict the content in those two countries when there are plenty of other similarly reactive Middle Eastern countries right now.

Communication media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter create their own rules as to what content is allowed on their platforms.  The companies have to obey local statutes in the countries that they do business but they also maintain their own levels of restriction and guidelines.  Facebook is comparatively the strictest of the three.  Facebook restricts terrorist organizations from using its site, they forbid nudity, and ban hate speech like Google does.  However, Facebook has a more lenient definition of “hate speech” than Google, defining it as “attacking a person”.  Alternatively, Twitter does not specifically ban hate speech, but they prohibit “direct, specific threats of violence against others.”  Twitter’s wide boundary for speech has gotten them into hot water with governments.

In the midst of the instant access of the Internet and the increasing response to controversial content, how far should Internet giants go in policing content?  When there are lives at stake, is free speech still a viable rationale?  Where is the line drawn?

Source: The New York Times



  1. These are all private companies, meaning I think they reserve the right to draw the line wherever they want to. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are the not the United States government and their services are not public rights. Moreover, these are free services. The customers are the advertisers, not the users. If the government banned certain speech from the internet entirely, that would be a different issue.
    However, I am very glad that Google resisted the US government’s request to take down the video. Google does not have to allow freedom of speech through YouTube, but I am glad that they do. I watched the video. It is crudely made and extremely offensive, but if Google wishes to protect free speech, that is a view I support.
    Basically, these social networking and video hosting companies are serving their own interests. If users feel too restricted, they will migrate to competing services. If we, the users, show that we value this freedom of speech, these companies will have to acquiesce in order to keep their user base, and hopefully we will not have to deal with much censorship.

  2. To view this issue through a lens of free speech and the respective rights of private companies would be to ignore the larger consequences of certain content, particularly in light of the recent violence in the middle east. Certainly, private companies should have the right to regulate the content on their websites and will generally do so in situations that incite violence, but the response to the notorious anti Islamic video by Google is evidence of the failure to recognize real dangers (I am pointing to the decision to only restrict the video in two middle eastern countries, in the wake of the recent violence). This censorship by Google was in response to violence, but fails to recognize the real threat of violence in other Nations with similar risks of violence. What is the sense in taking down or blocking videos in countries that have already reacted with extreme violence? Perhaps if violence erupts in a third nation, then Google will ban the video in that Nation as well. Sounds “too late” to me.

    The problem is one of striking a balance. Sure we can argue that those who reacted in violence are extremists, and should not have acted in that manner. That does not change the fact, however, that the reaction was violent and the casualties were real and tragic. Perhaps we can’t blame Google for not knowing that the video would lead to this much violence, but they are on notice in the future.

    I have trouble advocating free speech without limitations, when the threats of violence as a result of the speech are so great. Sure we can’t be afraid to promote our free speech values, and nor should people be afraid, but we have to be careful that we aren’t reckless in our protection of free (or open) speech.

  3. As Richard mentioned above, I completely agree that a private entity has the right to control what content they allow and what content they choose to ban. I firmly believe that freedom of speech and expression is something that needs to be protected and is an essential right that should be guaranteed to all. Now, there is a very murky area in terms of what exactly constitutes hate speech and what exactly should be banned or curtailed from a public forum. Yes, this has incited violent attacks, but I definitely agree with the view set forth in comment two by Amanjit, in that any action to ban the video in other countries after a possible violent attack occurs, may be too late in a sense. I also do not believe that removing the video now would accomplish any particular goal. The video has been out in the open and people are certainly aware of the content and viewpoint expressed in the video. Who is to say that banning this video at the cost of freedom of speech will prevent any future problems? Even if this is the case and it is removed, then there are other avenues where this video can be posted to reach the public eye. I do not in any way condone the views illustrated in the anti-Islamic video, but I do believe that these individuals have the right to express themselves through this film and subsequently, Facebook or Google has the right to choose what they intend to allow to be posted on their websites.

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