The last couple of weeks have tested Google’s (News - Alert) resolve in trying to protect freedom of speech and expression. The result of the film depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a negative light was responsible for civil unrest, loss of life and condemnation from around the world, but the company didn’t waiver and the video remained online in most countries.
The case in Brazil was different in that the state was holding Fabio Coelho, director-general of Google in the country responsible for political content posted on YouTube (News - Alert). The company relented after exhausting all appeals prompting Coelho to say “We are profoundly disappointed to not have the opportunity of openly debating our arguments in the electoral justice system that the videos were legitimate manifestations of the freedom of expression and should continue (to be) available in Brazil."
The freedom of speech carries with it responsibilities which is followed by the vast majority of respectable writers, journalists and entertainers. The freedom of speech, however, is not designed to place limits on how a person wishes to express themselves. The morality of a particular group of people should never dictate how someone can express themselves. That said, international companies have to realize not every country in the world has the same freedoms we cherish in the U.S. If they want to do business in these countries they have to follow the rule of law and accept the consequences if they are disobeyed.
The legal challenge raises questions of responsibility when a third party uploads content on a platform owned by a company. Who is responsible and should Google or a company providing the same type of service be accountable?
"Our laws trying to govern the Internet are outdated, it's not clear who is responsible for content, and that creates uncertainty for Internet companies, users and judges, who are left to interpret laws not written for the Internet," said Jose Guilherme Zagallo, head of the Brazilian bar association's commission focusing on information technology law.
The people who posted the content on YouTube closed their account and removed the video, highlighting the effects of intimidation on the freedom of speech. Coelho added, “Despite this, we will continue with our global campaign for liberty of expression, not just because it is a prerequisite for a free society but also because more information generally means more schools, more power, more economic opportunities and more liberty for people"
The video clip lampooned a candidate who made a verbal slip by the user Paraiba Humor saying “What and idiot give him and F.” The rule in question which the video violated is part of a 1965 Electoral Code which bans campaign ads that “offend the dignity or decorum” of a candidate.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly President Obama condemned the video about the Prophet Mohammed as “crude and disgusting, but he followed it by saying the freedom of speech must be protected not only in the U.S. but around the world.
In a strange twist of fate the U.S. is the second country with the most requests for the removal of videos by Google with a total of 187 trumped only by Brazil at 194.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman