Anger over an anti-Islam film reached new peaks on Monday as a call for a mass boycott of the Google search website and video-sharing website YouTube was quick to ripple across the online Muslim world.
Arab activists launched a series of campaigns on Facebook, claiming that Google still makes some links to the U.S.-made anti-Islam film, which mocks the Prophet Mohammed, accessible in Arab countries.
The low-budget film “Innocence of Muslims,” incited a wave of deadly anti-American violence in cities across the Muslim world targeting symbols of U.S. influence, from embassies and schools to fast food chains.
The call for a mass boycott included a change to the profile pictures of Facebook users supporting the cause.
The most popular picture appearing on Facebook profiles on Monday displayed a slogan, written in Arabic, which read: “This person is boycotting YouTube and Google throughout Sept. 24 and 25. In support of our beloved Prophet.”
In response to the boycott, a Google spokesperson told Al Arabiya English on Monday: “We believe in everyone’s right to express themselves freely, but at the same time, we know that users are aware of the role Google plays giving them universal access to information.”
Activists calling for the move claim that the website is still providing access to the film, according to social media users, despite Google initially blocking access to several countries in the past week.
The spokesperson said that the method of denying access to the film has varied from country to country, where in some places the film was only temporarily restricted in accordance with state guidelines.
“The video is widely available on the web. Where we have launched YouTube locally and we are notified that a video is illegal in that country such as in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, we have restricted access to the video.
“In the case of Egypt and Libya, we have only temporarily restricted the original trailer and exact duplicates,” she added.
Last week, Google, the parent company of YouTube, said the film would be restricted “in countries where it is considered illegal by local authorities” such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and most recently in Jordan following requests by their governments.
YouTube last week restricted access to the film in Egypt and Libya after unrest in those countries, and has been adding countries to the list. Some others, including Pakistan and Sudan, have blocked access themselves.
Spreading the word
Organizers planning the boycott have urged internet users to use other search engines, other than Google, providing them with an alternative list of sites including Bing, Yahoo, Lycos and Excite.
They also urged Internet users to stop using Google Chrome and use other browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer.
The messages have been sent using broadcasts, or bulk messages, posted on social media sites and sent via BlackBerry messaging. Some groups had planned the boycott earlier in the week.
One message being circulated by BlackBerry users in the United Arab Emirates this week stated: “YouTube refuses to remove Nabi [Prophet] Mohamad's offensive movie off of their website, so we UAE ppl will boycott YouTube for 3 days (no YouTube at all). On 20,21,22 September. Please broadcast this message to everyone you know!”
On microblogging site Twitter, Muslims have united their sentiments for the cause under the hashtag #BoycottYoutube.
Twitter user @saiba_ahmed posted on Monday: “Dear youtube, please would you kindly REMOVE the video of our beloved master!! .. That's all we simply ask for!!!! #BoycottYoutube.”
Meanwhile, user @Shelly195 wrote: “To Muslims all around the globe, do not forget to boycott Google and Youtube for today. #MuslimsStandTogether.”
Another user @MiladRazaQadri, who describes himself on Twitter as an Islamic Anasheed artist, posted: “If @YouTube can't remove the video that is against our Beloved Prophet (pbuh) then we should boycott and show them. #BoycottYoutube.”
The activists planning the boycott have high hopes that the internet giant will incur losses.
Organizers of these campaigns, who are believed to have grouped together from across the Arab world, said they expect Google will lose about $210 million in revenues and that its stock price will drop if internet users across Arab countries boycott the search engine, according to the Jordan Times.
The number of boycotters could stretch across the entire Muslim world however, with Muslims in Western and Asian countries also taking part, according to social media users angered by the film.
Arabs and Muslims account for about 8 percent of internet users in the world, an IT expert who spoke to the Jordan Times said on Monday.
Perhaps putting a dampener on the boycott, the analyst forecasted that the planned move “will not have an impact on Google,” adding that less than 0.5 percent of Google's profits are generated from the Arab and Muslim world.