Over the last few years, YouTube has gained a negative reputation with governments whose track records in freedom of speech and expression are not the most impressive. However, it is not any particular action of YouTube itself which helps to build this reputation – it is more so what they don’t do that upsets these countries. YouTube’s¬†failure to almost immediately remove any content from its site which these countries deem to be insulting to them or their leaders is what usually causes the ailment.

Two years ago, Turkey blocked nation-wide access to YouTube after videos uploaded to the site were said to be offensive toward the founder of the Republic. In Turkey, to say anything insulting or derogatory against Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the country, is illegal.¬†Turkey is not the only country to have done this: China blocked YouTube, unblocked it, and blocked it again after video was uploaded showing Chinese soldiers being violent toward Tibetans. Pakistan have blocked the site in the past because some of its content was deemed “un-Islamic” or insulting to the faith, but stopped filtering the site after YouTube removed the videos. Iran, another Islamic republic, blocked YouTube because its content was deemed “immoral” and due to the amount of information that had managed to escape to the wider world about the 2009 presidential elections. Libya blocked YouTube after videos referenced to its human rights record, Thailand has had a long battle with the site over a small number of videos said to insult the country’s king and the United Arab Emirates previously blocked the site over content which was deemed to be against the “religious” and “moral” values of the Islamic country.

However, Turkey have just lifted this ban, allowing users in the country to access the site legally once again (during its ban, many users accessed the site through proxy avoidance and other back-door methods). When I was in Turkey a couple of months ago, it seemed almost strange that a site I had grown so used to accessing displayed a Turkish error message whenever I tried to access it. The reason that the country, of which 99% of its population are Muslim, say they have unblocked the site is due to the fact YouTube had removed the offensive content.

Recent research by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe showed that a law allowing internet filtering on the basis of inappropriate content was being used to prevent access to over 5,000 websites, suggesting that Turkey has one of the worst track records when it comes to internet censorship. However, a government figure for Turkey said that he hopes that YouTube have learned a lesson from this, and that they will operate within the “limits of [Turkish] law”.

This is what I deem to be the biggest misunderstanding that governments have when it comes to YouTube videos. They seem to think that YouTube are aware of every piece of content that is uploaded to their site – with twenty four hours of video added every minute, it can become difficult to keep track and they can only respond speedily if people are reporting what is deemed to be inappropriate. As a strong advocate for freedom of speech, internet censorship clearly restricts and oppresses people from having their human right to exercising their opinion; blocking YouTube denies them this fundamental right. I respect beliefs and I respect that people can find comments against famous figures extremely insulting, but why should governments disallow access to these sites if it is not necessarily residents of that country adding the content?

What do you think? Are people in countries relying heavily on internet censorship being oppressed? Is it damaging their opinion and freedom of speech? Should YouTube have to remove offensive content? Are you in a country in which YouTube is blocked or has been blocked in the past? How does it affect you? Do you think it is fair? Leave a comment.