In a rare but not unprecedented move, YouTube has blocked offending videos of prophet Muhammad in Egypt and Libya where people were already rioting because of them.The move is designed to calm spirits and put an end to the violence, but it's still voluntary censorship any way you look at it.
YouTube is well within its rights to block videos anywhere it sees fit. And the movie that has sparked all the violence and led to the deaths of several members of the US embassy staff in Libya is offensive and of no artistic value. It was created to make a stir and it did just that.
But, of course, free speech, in the US at least, protects offensive speech and does so even if it has no merit, artistic or otherwise. That said, the same free speech rules don't apply in Egypt or Libya. What's more, Google has offices in Egypt and may have run afoul of laws there.
"We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions," YouTube stated.
"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," it said.
"However, given the very difficult situation in Libya and Egypt we have temporarily restricted access in both countries. Our hearts are with the families of the people murdered in yesterday's attack in Libya," it added.
The mode is understandable perhaps, the video has already been blocked in Afghanistan by authorities on the same grounds. Initially, it was thought that the entire site was blocked, but only the offending video has been targeted.
Still, the EFF is concerned that self-censorship is never a good idea. "Once YouTube has made the decision to pro-actively censor its content, they start down a slippery slope that ends in YouTube Knows Best moral policing of every video on their site. It is disappointing to see YouTube turn its back on policies that have allowed it to become a such a strong platform for freedom of expression," it said.