Libya Killings and Speech Labels: The First Amendment According to Google
At risk of dipping back into this touchy subject, there’s this interesting development as reported in today’s NY Times: Google has blocked the film that has provoked embassy (and now KFC) attacks from youTube sites in Libya and Egypt:
Google said it decided to block the video in response to violence that killed four American diplomatic personnel in Libya. The company said its decision was unusual, made because of the exceptional circumstances. Its policy is to remove content only if it is hate speech, violating its terms of service, or if it is responding to valid court orders or government requests. And it said it had determined that under its own guidelines, the video was not hate speech.
Maybe the hate speech/offensive speech distinction can be elided by the smart folks in Google’s foreign ministry. If material is literally setting off global firestorms through its dissemination online, Google will strategically pull the plug. (You can bet, of course, that Google is consulting with official foreign ministries on this, in the way that diplomats do.)
Do people who have a problem with the hate speech ban have a problem with Google’s action here? Seems to me hard to argue with, at least as deployed in this targeted way, if it stops a lot of senseless violence and dangerous instability. Private actors, of course, aren’t subject to the First Amendment (or parallel international law constraints). Of course there is another side of the coin, as when internet companies more clearly do the bidding of anti-democratic authorities.