Google blocks access to video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad

The US embassy in Benghazi Libya after attack by Islamic hardlinersUPDATE — Violence has spread this afternoon across the Muslim world with protests in Cairo, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and the Lebanon as the storm surrounding the YouTube clip attacking the Prophet Muhammad grows.

In the Sudan protesters have tried to storm the British and German embassies in the capital Khartoum as allies of the US are drawn into the storm.

It raises the question should Google now pull the offending video from the web when it is causing so much trouble?

The incident is similar to the uproar caused by the ‘Everybody draw Muhammed day’ group on Facebook two years ago.

FROM EARLIER - Google has blocked access to the controversial video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, which has sparked violence in the Muslim world and claimed as many as eight lives.

Those lost include Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, who was killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi earlier this week.

In an effort to calm rising tensions Google has blocked access to the video in Egypt and Libya where violence and demonstrations have flared. Four people have also been killed in Yemen as protesters attacked the US embassy there.

Despite blocking the video, called ‘The Innocence of Muslims’, in two Arab countries, Google has not removed it from the wider web where many versions are available despite appeals from Obama administration officials.

According to a New York Times report Google said “its decision was unusual, made because of the exceptional circumstances”.

Yesterday, the Obama administration said it had asked YouTube to review the video and determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service.

However, the 14 minute video trailer is still online as under Google’s terms of service it is not classed as a “hate speech”, which would have ensured its immediate removal.

In a statement, YouTube, said: ”We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions. This 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, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries.”

The man behind the video has been named by US authorities as Nakoula Basseley  (aka Sam Bacile) who identifies himself as an American-Israeli property developer, but Israel denies this. What is certain is that he is a convicted bank fraudster with as many as seven aliases.

He has characterized the 14-minute film as “a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of Islam”. He has also called Islam “a cancer” and said it was “political movie” and not a “religious movie”.

The video, backed by a number of hardcore anti-Islam groups in the US calls Islam a fraud and in one scene from the trailer the Prophet Muhammad is portrayed as a womanising, buffoon, killer and child molester.

It was originally posted on the web back in July, but got little attention until Egyptian television showed clips of the video and posted it online.

Some have called for Google to remove the video entirely while others say that if it does Google will be going too far as world’s information gatekeeper.

Kevin Bankston, director of the free expression project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit in Washington that advocates for digital civil liberties, told the New York Times that Google is walking a precarious line:

On the one hand, he said, blocking the video “sends the message that if you violently object to speech you disagree with, you can get it censored.” At the same time, he said, “the decision to block in those two countries specifically is kind of hard to second guess, considering the severity of the violence in those two areas.”

“It seems they’re trying to balance the concern about censorship with the threat of actual violence in Egypt and Libya,” he added. “It’s a difficult calculation to make and highlights the difficult positions that content platforms are sometimes put in.”