Saturday, September 15, 2012

The rising power of non-state actors: Google restricts anti-Muslim video

Google’s restricting of anti-Muslim video shows increasing clout of Web firms - The Washington Post:

'via Blog this'

I can't say that I blame Google for blocking access to the Innocence of Muslims films on YouTube. It would make me a more than a little queasy to know a video hosted on a service I was running had helped to fuel riots. At the same time this is also a freedom of speech issue that deserves examination, and the incident is also an example of just how much power has moved from state to non-state hands in recent years. These days Google and other online service providers have the ability to selectively block public dissemination of information on a scale legally unavailable to the US government, and that is beyond the technical means of both federal agencies and national governments in places like Egypt and Libya at this time.

As far as the free speech part, I don't feel too bad about Google choosing to block this video.  While I haven't had a chance to view the it yet, it sound like it toes the border of hate speech, and as a private service Google is free to set and define limits on what it will carry in the US. At the same time that freedom and the power inherent in it is worrisome. Google's actions can have an immense impact on the flow of information that is vital to public discourse, but with none of the public accountability of the democratic institutions that have traditionally governed that process here in the US.

Like I said, it's something deserving of examination. While Google has by and large been a decent corporate citizens there are no guarantees that it will always be so.

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