Google, who owns YouTube, has recently ran afoul of Brazilian electoral laws preventing personal criticism of candidates. A libertarian soul might not like that proposition, but it is Brazilian law, and it has a rational public policy objective: preventing some of the mud-slinging character assassinating activities that we sometimes see in other jurisdictions. It is a noble aim of raising the level of debate.
So, when a video appeared making “provocative statements about an alleged paternity suit involving Alcides Bernal, a mayoral candidate in the city of Campo Grande,” legal complaints were filed “and the court in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul ruled that they violate Brazil’s electoral law.” A Google Brazilian executive was detained and Google was forced to remove the offending material.
But it is a thing entirely different when a group of people seek to prevent others from voicing an opinion that such group doesn’t like. That is the case also in Brazil, where Muslims have obtained a court ordered arguing that a disparaging video of Islam violates their constitutional religious freedom.
The Internet and Google are technical tools typically welcomed in industrial societies, but even in places such a China that are rapidly developing the government has sought to rein Google in about searches and content. Brazil is no industrial backwater either
While I’m not favourable to a homogenized world that looks like Canada, for example, I am in favour of advancing freedoms in the world. I also don’t relish seeing Google executives persecuted for what to us may seem non-sense, but it is the price that pioneers often have to pay. In a short period of time, the Internet has come to challenge the ways in which we conceive of organizing, collect and disseminate information, and it is challenging censoring tendencies all over (even in Canada).
As knowledge and communication technologies expand, cultures will constantly need to negotiate local traditions with the wider freedoms afforded by new technologies. In many cases these are are not incompatible notions; they just have not been brought together recently. None of this is new. Cultures around the world have experienced manifestations of this problem at the outer edges where cultures meet, or when cultures have clashed.
The Internet does easily bring these tensions right to core of some societies without the physical clashes, but clashes are not completely out of the question as the recent attacks on American legations show.
A pessimist would point at these challenges as bad news. However, I the fact that these challenges are taking place in significant numbers shows that the underlying assumptions of freedom that are found in these technologies are having some salutary effect.
I suspect that we will likely see more Google execs threatened with jail time around the world nonetheless.