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Media | YouTube bans as inappropriate a video displaying violent verses from the Quran

Issue: "'Infidel'," March 3, 2007

Atheist commentator Nick Gisburne is addicted to YouTube, the enormously popular video-sharing website that Google purchased for $1.65 billion last fall. For the past several months, Gisburne fed that cyber dependency with a steady diet of anti-Christian rhetoric, building a strong viewership with his sardonic style and English wit. But when he sought to take a bite out of Islamic theists, YouTube cut him off.

Gisburne's offending video featured inflammatory quotations from the Quran set to background music. The passages included chilling admonitions such as, "Kill disbelievers wherever you find them."

Within days of posting his musical slide show, Gisburne received an email from YouTube staffers explaining that they had removed the video "due to its inappropriate nature." The correspondence further informed Gisburne that his entire account was now disabled permanently, an action that deleted all of his previously posted content.

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Gisburne supporters and free speech defenders decried such censorship immediately, many posting video commentaries to express frustration with the apparent double standard applied to anti-Islamic material.

As a private company, YouTube is within its legal rights to ban any videos it deems objectionable even if they do not clearly violate the site's terms of use. But critics of the Gisburne ban are concerned more with the ethics of the decision than its legalities. Is YouTube truly the disinterested video file-sharing service it purports to be?

Conservative author and commentator Michelle Malkin doesn't think so. She labeled the site DhimmiTube last fall after its staffers removed her video slide show depicting images of the victims of Islamic jihad. "Some users are proposing a YouTube boycott," she wrote on her blog at the time. "But I think the better approach is to stay and fight-and persuade DhimmiTube to rethink its policies. Will any criticism of jihad qualify as 'hate' under its terms of use guidelines?"

Malkin further questioned the timing of YouTube's purge of anti-jihad videos-an action that correlated with the sudden appearance of jihad propaganda on the site. The parallel led some to believe that extremist Muslims had recently discovered YouTube and begun flagging as inappropriate all anti-Islamic videos.

Gisburne defenders have levied similar charges. YouTube users are allowed to flag any videos they deem offensive, alerting site managers who then determine whether to remove the clip. Muslims within the YouTube community were certainly aware of Gisburne's video as many posted responses defending the Quran and accusing Gisburne of cherry-picking pro-violence verses out of context. Some Muslims even suggested that because the quotes were taken from the Skeptics Annotated Quran, an online translation that seeks to remove any ambiguity from controversial Islamic scriptures, YouTube was justified in banning the video.

But a host of other Muslims came to Gisburne's defense, arguing that all speech, even unfair or false speech, ought to be protected. Many users of YouTube went one step further in reposting the offending video to their accounts. Others slammed the two-year-old website for failing to live up to Google's company motto, "Don't be evil."

Despite such public-relations hits, YouTube did not hesitate to punt Gisburne again after he created a new account and uploaded all of his videos back to the website. This time, however, the company cited copyright infringement for the ban, claiming that Gisburne's use of background music was unauthorized-a suspicious charge given the rampant use of copyrighted background music in videos that remain on the site. YouTube did not reply to WORLD's request for comment.

Many organizations share such sensitivity to anti-Islamic material since the publishing of Danish cartoons mocking Muhammad sparked violence throughout the Muslim world in the fall of 2005. The student newspapers at Purdue University, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley, and the Georgia Institute of Technology recently rejected full-page ads from conservative author David Horowitz and his Terrorism Awareness Project. The ads feature warnings about the dangers of jihad and quotes from the leaders of Islamic terrorist organizations. Like YouTube, these student newspapers deemed the naked teachings of Islam too offensive for public consumption.

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