Four American citizens in Benghazi including US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were killed Tuesday in a rocket attack while fleeing from protests that began because of a controversial anti-Islamic film. The film, titled, “Innocence of Muslims” has been the cause of violent protests in Libya and Cairo and has sparked controversy due to its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad as a sexual deviant and blundering idiot.
The creator of the film, an Israeli-American real estate developer, told The Wall Street Journal that “Islam is a cancer” and that he created the film to express his views of Islam being a hateful religion.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reported that California resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula has confirmed his assistance with filming “Innocence of Muslims.” Nakoula denies he is the film’s creator but confirmed that he worked with its creator, “Sam Bacile.”
The low budget film has been making its rounds across the Internet on video-sharing sites like DailyMotion and YouTube. Even though the film’s creator told AP that the full film has only been shown once in a Los Angeles theater, trailers and clips are circulating around the Web with no signs of being pulled down or restricted.
Those same YouTube clips were aired by several Egyptian TV hosts and were portrayed as an American plot to malign the Prophet Muhammad.
While the film was not uploaded exclusively to the Internet, it has still found legs on sites like YouTube, which brings into sharp focus the grey areas of digital video censorship.
All of the major video-sharing sites, excluding DailyMotion, have firm policies restricting users from uploading pornographic or excessively violent material. The balance between what constitutes restricted material varies from site to site but the great equalizer seems to be anything taken from television, movies, or copyrighted music.
Material that is protected by any type of license has become the ultimate pariah on video-sharing sites. Score a video to a song owned by Sony or Interscope, and YouTube will pull it within hours. So, what about content that has led to the death of four US citizens and is sacrilegious toward people’s religious beliefs?
Digital video sharing has always existed with the assumption that it was there to be a platform for free speech. Following that logic, an anti-Muslim film on YouTube or Vimeo can be viewed simply as a filmmaker practicing his freedoms. However, where can the boundaries of slanderous and defamatory content be drawn?
If a rip of “Breaking Bad” gets you a prompt cease and desist letter, what does an offensive riot-inciting video get you?
The first step towards video censorship is both a perilous and muddled one. Nothing is more valued on the Internet than freedom of speech. The ability to post and upload anything we want came with the expectation that it would not damage the livelihood of those who stand to lose a profit. With that, video-sharing sites have diverted their censorship resources in favor of anything and anyone with unlimited financial power. While this can be seen as video sites protecting their companies, perhaps it’s time that we sit down to decide what is truly worthy of video censorship.