YouTube on Wednesday blocked access to the video “Innocence of Muslims” to Web surfers in Libya and Egypt, after the film, which mocks the Muslim prophet Mohammed, sparked riots in those countries.
The video was the catalyst for the attack in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats were killed by gunmen in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday.
The video has not, however, been removed from YouTube, in keeping with the company’s general policy of non-intervention with content.
In a brief statement on Wednesday, Google, which owns YouTube, rejected the notion of removing the video on grounds it did not violate YouTube's policies, but restricted viewers in Egypt and Libya from loading it due to the special circumstances in the country.
"This video - which is widely available on the Web - is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube," Google said in a statement. "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."
A search for the video turns up dozens of results, including trailers, parts of the film and even the full film in high definition. Web surfers in Hebrew get a warning from YouTube that is common to videos with graphic content or meant for adults only: “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as being potentially offensive or inappropriate. Viewer discretion is advised.”
“We work hard to create a community everyone can enjoy and which also enables people to express different opinions,” YouTube said in a statement. “This can be a challenge because what’s OK in one country can be offensive elsewhere.”
The controversial film was produced by a man who identified himself as who described himself as a California-based Israeli Jew named Sam Bacile. But according to Steve Klein, who served as a consultant on the film, the producer is not Israeli and is apparently not even Jewish.
Klein, who was contacted by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic magazine, said that the name is, in fact, a pseudonym and that he did not know "Bacile"'s real name.
This is not the first time Google has restricted access to videos by region. In the past, access from Israel was blocked to a video that opposed Israeli public diplomacy regarding the Mavi Marmara confrontation in 2010, as well as to Palestinian satirical videos.
YouTube is aware that such blockages are declaratory and limited, since controversial videos are often widely posted elsewhere on the Internet and access denials can be circumvented relatively easily.
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