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Censoring Innocence of Muslims in Malaysia

The Malaysian government has requested that Google take down the video Innocence of Muslims, and Google has since complied. As of today, anyone trying to access the clip from a Malaysian IP address would see a screen that reads “This content is not available in your country due to a legal complaint. Sorry about that.”

The clip is most definitely offensive, and demeaning but what is quite obviously isn’t is–serious. The first thing anyone notices from the clip is that it’s of low quality, there are multiple versions of Malaysian Gangnam style that are made with far higher quality than the clip, yet this one particular clip has managed to create such an uproar that people have killed for it. I’m not defending the clip, or opposing it.

What I am against is Governments and Corporations coming together to censor something ‘on behalf’ of the people. What I am against is a ineffectual censorship, which instead of preventing people from viewing the clip, actually nudge them towards actively searching for it online.

In the end, we have to say that video clips don’t kill people–people kill people and  in my view the censoring of the clip is both ridiculously short-sighted and terribly ineffective.

Why Youtube Censoring isn’t effective

1) Youtube isn’t the only video hosting website online. Try performing a search on “Innocence of Muslims Vimeo”. Taking it down from Google only removes it from one of the many video hosting websites. You can still find it on Vimeo.

2) A Malaysian IP censoring is easy to get around. I’ve written a whole bunch of post and how you may obtain a US based IP address either via proxy, TOR or even by using an virtual machine on Amazon Web Services. Obviously the purpose of obtaining a US based IP address was to subscribe to Amazon Kindle publications or Netflix, but you could use this to view the clip.

3) Finally, even Google isn’t doing a good job censoring the clip. While it may have blocked the original clip, it hasn’t blocked the thousands (or even millions) or re-uploaded clips. These are clips downloaded by youtube users and uploaded via another username. Google doesn’t have the ability to screen through all the 48 hours of video uploaded every second–so it doesn’t. And with a couple minutes of searching on youtube, even from your Malaysian IP address you will find a few copies uploaded by youtube users.

Why Censoring itself is useless and short-sighted

As of right now, everyone knows about the movie. It isn’t even a movie, what is uploaded onto youtube isn’t even a trailer, it’s a cut and paste of different scenes that neither tie in to a narrative or offer any compelling reason to watch more. It’s a downright lame attempt to instigate violence and the people who fall for it are just as responsible as the people who instigated it.

More to the point, the censoring of the clip may imply that Malaysia is like Libya, that we may break out into violent terror and begin to attack embassies. That we need Google to censor the clip–or else. We’re a far more mature nation then politicians give us credit for, we may form a protest, and by all means if anyone wants to protest in front of the US embassy–go right ahead. Censoring the clip on the other hand paints us in the wrong light.

The Malaysian Government has promised no censorship of the internet, yet here we are and they’re censoring it.

Once you decide to censor something, you’d basically given the Government the right to say what ‘may’ or ‘may not’ offend you, and you have no say. The Government has no right to say that something is offensive to me, and no right to remove my right to access information because of it. Of all the clips on youtube, the clip falls to very extreme side of spectrum, for the most part 99.99% of the clips on youtube do not stay in the same neighborhood,  yet just like any other spectrum, once we let the government do it for one part of the spectrum, we have given them the right to do it to the entire spectrum. It’s a very slippery slope we’re taking here, and I for one am not comfortable.

This takedown of the clip from youtube, is no different from the take down of search results from Google.cn, the same takedowns almost all Google employees talk about with such bitterness in their hearts, the same takedowns that made Google choose to leave China (contrary to public opinion the security breach at Google from the Chinese Government was merely the straw that broke the camels back).

Finally, any further attempt to censor the clip more ‘effectively’ is going to be more carpet-bomb than smart-missile. It’ll be a complete ban on anything resembling the words ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and that will have serious repercussions, because it will begin to censor the debate around the movie, and the debate around the embassy protest. It’ll make it harder for Malaysians to access information about an important piece of news–and restriction to information is never a good thing. You may not like the news, and you may think it’s too sensitive, but in order for you to get a  balance opinion and balance reporting of the news, you can’t have corporations and government censor them.

Let Malaysians watch the movie, and let them decide if this is indeed offensive, and let them censor it in their own homes on their own. The Government has no business telling me what I can and cannot watch–and neither does Google.

I’ve never been a fan of censorship, and I’m still not. I hope this isn’t construed as support for the clip (it isn’t), it merely hopes to point out that censorship is not the way we address these issues, both because they’re ineffective and short-sighted.