‘Innocence of Muslims’ video triggers row again; Egypt bans YouTube for 1 month

Egypt has banned YouTube for a month, for refusing to remove “Innocence of Muslims,” a five-month-old US video clip deemed to be inimical to Islam.

Google, which owns YouTube has declined to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” video which was uploaded on YouTube five months ago. Instead, access to the video was restricted in those countries where it was illegal including Egypt but Cairo has chosen to join several Muslim-populated countries like Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which had banned YouTube for the controversial video.

Otherwise, YouTube had blocked access to the film in Libya, India, Egypt and Indonesia. YouTube had said in a statement last year that “This (removal) can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere. This video – which is widely available on the web – is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube. However, we’ve restricted access to it in countries where it is illegal such as India and Indonesia as well as in Libya and Egypt, given the very sensitive situations in these two countries. This approach is entirely consistent with principles we first laid out in 2007.”

This is not the first time that YouTube was caught in a religious controversy. In October 2010, its website videos of imam Anwar al-Awlaki, saying that by hosting al-Awlaki’s messages, “We are facilitating the recruitment of homegrown terror” — evoked similar demands for banning the content, especially from U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Even British security minister Pauline Neville-Jones said: “These Web sites would categorically not be allowed in the U.K. They incite cold-blooded murder, and as such are surely contrary to the public good.”

It was only in November 2010 that YouTube removed Awlaki’s videos from its site stating that the videos violated the site’s guidelines prohibiting “dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts”, or came from accounts “registered by a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization”.

Finally, in December 2010, YouTube added “promotes terrorism” to the list of reasons that users can give when flagging a video as inappropriate.

Ironically, YouTube relies on its users to flag the content of videos as inappropriate before its staff determine a flagged video was indeed violating the site’s terms of service.

When the UK House of Commons panel on media ruled in July 2008 that it was “unimpressed” with YouTube’s system for policing its videos, YouTube defended its policy stating: “We have strict rules on what’s allowed, and a system that enables anyone who sees inappropriate content to report it to our 24/7 review team and have it dealt with promptly. We educate our community on the rules and include a direct link from every YouTube page to make this process as easy as possible for our users. Given the volume of content uploaded on our site, we think this is by far the most effective way to make sure that the tiny minority of videos that break the rules come down quickly.”

It remains to be seen how YouTube or Google reacts now to Egypt’s ban.

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