Does Google’s free speech argument make sense?

For those of us who thought that the world had seen enough violence, that we should now focus only on turning the economic recession upside down, we were proven wrong yet again. Yesterday, a top Iranian official was quoted by the Iranian public TV channel, Press TV, as saying that the war between Israel and Iran (when it happens) is likely to degenerate into the World War III.

Tensions that have been simmering between Israel and Iran for several decades now, sharply escalated this past week when the US and its allies launched a major naval exercise in the Gulf that they say shows a global will to keep oil shipping lanes open, if Israel and Iran go to war.

While all of this is happening at a macro level, the minds of individual members of the international community are being dutifully polluted by a few trouble-makers. A classic case in point is the film, “Innocence of Muslims”, by someone who is supposedly called Sam Bacile. Many cite the Arabic version of the film as the reason for the killings of the US ambassador in Libya and four others in the US embassy.

I just watched the 14-minute trailor of the English version of the film that was uploaded on YouTube in July.  It is, at best, tasteless and shallow. Clearly made to seek a violent response, the film has several scenes that depict the Prophet as a paedophile, womaniser and a brute.

At a time, when economies of several countries are collapsing, billions are going hungry and billions others are living precariously, no one should have the time to focus his/her life’s energies on a badly-made, rabble-rousing film.

But, people do. Many did. And the consequences were dire.

This is when, Google, the multinational company, should have stepped in. In politically and economically unstable times, Google should have removed the film’s trailor in July suo motto. Instead, the trailor on YouTube has three advisements embedded into the video and a full version of the Arabic film has also been uploaded. Google has refused to remove it citing free speech.

It is bad enough that ordinary citizens have to deal with the vested interests of their political representatives, it is worse when corporate bodies further burden them with their selfish concerns.

With Iran being a major issue in the upcoming US presidential elections, Google would not want to be seen as taking sides. Several fringe right-wing parties and some reactionary Republican voices would criticise Google if it took the video down.

A multinational corporation doesn’t exist in isolation. Google is not a mere Internet solutions provider; it is the vital messenger that connects the world. While the debate on ‘free speech’ is valid in most circumstances, there are some cases where ‘free speech’ can be no justification at all. This film was clearly a case in point; at least, after the US Ambassador was killed.

With greedy politicians, self-centered multinationals and thoughtless citizens, sometimes, I wonder, how long would it be before we push the world off the edge?

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