This is all kinds of wrong:
Obama administration officials said Thursday that they have asked YouTube to review the video [that reportedly set off the embassy attacks] and determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, according to people close to the situation but not authorized to comment.
This is just plain wrong, especially given that YouTube had already said the video didn’t violate their terms. It’s one thing for citizens to call on YouTube to censor itself or for YouTube to voluntarily pull a video. But when the government “asks”, it does so under the implicit shadow of threat. As I have shown many times, the government can easily find a law you’ve inadvertently broken and make your life hell if they decide to go after you. That is the context in which this request was made.
Moreover, I think it’s missing the point. There is growing evidence that this film is more an excuse for the anti-American demonstrations than a reason. I guarantee you that most of the rioters have not seen it or have no idea what’s in it. Why on Earth would anyone think pulling the video would make them say, “Oh, well, that’s OK then. Back to our poverty!”? Standing up for free speech costs you nothing; wavering on it gains you nothing.
But more importantly, you can’t put the genie back in the fucking bottle. The movie is out there. If YouTube pulls it, someone else will host it. Hell maybe Julian Assange will put it up. (Wouldn’t that be fun? Wikileaks v. the Islamists). As anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the internet will tell you, removing something — a nude picture, a dumb blog post, an offensive video — is an exercise in Whack-A-Mole. Nothing ever leaves the net.
I suspect that what this is really all about is a crude attempt to placate some of the anger. “Hey, we asked those guys to pull it but they wouldn’t!” But if so, it’s a stupid one. This will carry little water with people who want to burn every book that isn’t the Koran.
It’s possible to say both that the film is ridiculously offensive and that we defend free speech. We’ve been doing that with Fred Phelps, the KKK and the Illinois Nazis for decades. Obama and Romney both have already said that about this video, as has about 95% of the commentariat. And, yes, it’s possible to say that without glowering at YouTube and looking like the thought police.
This isn’t fascism or the destruction of the Constitution. Let’s not get carried away. But it’s stupid, thoughtless and thuggish.