Conflict & Justice

How an Obscure Video Landed in the Social Media Spotlight

The trailer for the inflammatory video "Innocence of Muslims" had languished in obscurity online since July, before it sparked outrage this week in the Muslim world.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

Zeynep Tufekci, a visiting scholar at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy has examined just how the video went from obscurity to notoriety practically overnight.

"In September, it was picked up by a few bloggers in Egypt, and it was then picked up by Egyptian television stations which played it again and again, and gave it great prominence, partly because they are television stations using it to make a political point," Tufekci says.

She argues that trying to restrict internet speech is not likely to be effective or possible. Instead, Tufekci says instead greater attention should be placed on thinking about how we design internet sites, communicate with citizens of other countries and try to open channels of dialogue.

"The people who like to create these hateful videos, and the people who use it as a pretext for violence are actually not in clash. They're in a nice mutually enforcing symbiotic relationship …They're both getting what they want out of it," Tufekci says. "It's up to citizens, it's up to media to try to explain and calm down and create channels of conversation so that the impact of such provocations is less."

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    Zeynep Tufekci, visiting scholar at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. ( Photo: Zeynep Tufekci )

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    Zeynep Tufekci, visiting scholar at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. ( Photo: Zeynep Tufekci )

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    Credit: REUTERS

    Protesters set fire to police vehicles during clashes with riot police along a road which leads to the U.S. embassy, near Tahrir Square in Cairo September 13, 2012. Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi said on Thursday he supported peaceful protest but not attacks on embassies, after Egyptians angry at a film deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammad climbed into the U.S. embassy in Cairo and tore down the U.S. flag. He pledged to protect foreigners in Egypt. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

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    A screenshot from the trailer for the inflammatory video "Innocence of Muslims" (Photo: YouTube)

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