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