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YouTube from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: Tyrannize Locally, Censor Globally

34 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2011 Last revised: 29 Oct 2012

Hannibal Travis

Florida International University College of Law; University of Florida - Levin College of Law

Date Written: April 1, 2011


This chapter in a forthcoming book attempts to map global patterns by which local tyrannies become sources of potentially global infringements on freedom of expression, particularly but not exclusively on the YouTube Web site. It illustrates certain parallels between the efforts to force copyright filters on YouTube and the Web in the West, and to harden the Great Firewalls of China, Arabia, and Persia in the East. The parallels include preemptive filtering, deep packet inspection, overbroad restrictions, and harms to user privacy.

Generally speaking, blasphemy and seditious libel are the dominant forms of censorship in the impoverished and/or dictatorial societies of Africa and central and southern Asia, with insulting the great leader similarly controversial at the fringes of Asia including China, Thailand, and Turkey, and in the South Atlantic including Colombia, Honduras, and Zimbabwe. By contrast, intellectual property is prompting many of the Web site takedowns for political and cultural speech in the North Atlantic including Europe and the United States. Resistance to censorship around the world employs both legal and extra-legal tactics. Internet freedom has worked its way into our constitutional and statutory law in the North Atlantic and Europe, and parts of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Therefore, a judicial consensus is emerging that freedom of expression must rein in the enforcement of corporate catalogs of intellectual property rights.

In large swaths of Africa and Asia, however, constitutions often do not mandate robust judicial protection of freedom of expression, so public intolerance of censorship presents a more direct battle of forces. In these societies, self-help, surreptitious defense of new public spheres, trans-border cooperation, and voting with one’s feet are more likely to succeed than filing lawsuits or asserting constitutional rights. There, YouTube bans and shutdowns of the entire Internet with proxy servers and aid from foreign Web firms, sometimes enjoying explicit diplomatic support, are challenged by citizen self-help in the form of reposting prohibited material and using proxy services, virtual private networks, dialup connections and satellite phones.

Keywords: YouTube, Google, censorship, Europe, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Honduras, Thailand, Turkey, filtering, proxies, refugees, DailyMotion

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Travis, Hannibal, YouTube from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: Tyrannize Locally, Censor Globally (April 1, 2011). Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-10. Available at SSRN: or

Hannibal Travis (Contact Author)

Florida International University College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States

University of Florida - Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

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