It's admirable that Google is so reluctant to censor content on YouTube. But now that the company has yanked videos from an extreme American-born Muslim cleric currently in hiding, it's worth asking why the company finally caved to critics.
Imam Anwar al-Awlaki has been controversial for some time now, after all. The American-born cleric's videos have been linked, the New York Times writes, to terrorists involved with a Yemeni murder, the 9/11 hijacking, the underwear bomber, the Fort Hood shooter and the stabbing of a pro-Iraq War member of the British Parliament. Al-Awlaki can't get "credit" for all those acts, even if he seems to eagerly want to take it, but people have been calling for his many video sermons to be removed from YouTube for at least two years now. Now that Google is giving in, citing YouTube's longstanding ban on "hate speech, or incitement to commit specific and serious acts of violence" and banning many of the videos it's unclear what precipitated the change, aside from growing pressure; last week, both Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner and Britain's minister for security called for the videos to come down.
That's only going to open up Google to more arm twisting in the future, whatever you think of this specific case. At least the company is sticking to its guns in some cases: A video of Al-Awlaki's sermon on the death of Michael Jackson is still live. With 49,000 views, no less.