Don’t be evil – Google, freedom of speech, corporate responsibility and that video

I’m a huge fan of Google. The company has defined the internet era. Google is the world’s most popular search engine. Youtube is more popular than television in many parts of the world. Google Maps has redefined how we get from A to B. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Google has even entered the common language as the term people use when they refer to searching on the internet: “Go Google it…”

Google has done all of this and more while living by its ‘don’t be evil’ corporate motto. While Google has been criticized before for bending and breaking this mantra (most notably with its operations in China), the last couple of weeks have been remarkable. There’s probably few of you out there who have not heard about the film, named ‘the Innocence of Muslims’. The film, which has caused a global uproar, was uploaded to Youtube at the start of July.

Since then, there have been riots and demonstrations worldwide. Dozens have been killed and injured. And yet, Google has refused to pull it off Youtube. According to an AP story from two weeks back:

“Google is refusing a White House request to take down an anti-Muslim clip on YouTube, but is restricting access to it in certain countries.

The White House said Friday that it had asked YouTube to review whether the video violated its terms of use. Google owns YouTube, the online video sharing site.

YouTube said in a statement Friday that the video is widely available on the Web and is “clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.” (the full piece can be viewed here)

Google argues that only materials which are in clear violation of laws or that promote hate speech will be removed from Youtube.
Google says The Innocence of Muslims does not however breach YouTube guidelines. However, Google has blocked users from seeing the video in India, Indonesia, Libya and Egypt due to local laws and “the sensitive situation”. Youtube’s full statement from Friday 14 September is below.

“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, 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.”

For me, the video is the clearest indication yet that Google has given up on its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra. Google had to pull down a video from Brazil after its resident of its Brazilian operations was arrested for breaking local laws.

Google constantly argues that Youtube is a channel and that it has no say in what should be on that platform for the sake of free speech. However, how many newspapers would accept advertising from Neo-Nazi groups? How many television channels would run an advert for euthanasia? Just like these media channels, Google has a responsibility to its audience. This cannot simply be about pure profit and driving up viewer numbers. Google sells products globally, it has to be responsible globally as well.

The fact that these videos are still on Youtube shames Google. I for one hope that the company I have admired for so long finally wakes up and does the right thing on this issue and others in the future by better defining and vetting what should go up on platforms such as Youtube and reacting to communities sooner rather than not at all.

Please Google, don’t be evil…

Google, please don’t be evil. Come back from the dark side.

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