Far too often, people respond self-destructively to real issues. Take Muslims protesting against that film which truly did insult the Prophet Muhammad. The ensuing mob demonstrations gave cover to a terrorist attack in Libya and generally reinforced the Muslim rage illusion among people that were thinking that anyways. The Innocence Of Muslims was a film (trailer) designed to inflame tensions and bring out the worst in people, and it did. Peoples anger, in this immediate case, was actually redirected against the United States, which didn’t produce the film. But the US is racist against Muslims. That is a real issue.
First Aside: US Racism Against Muslims
In the US the amount of anti-Muslim nonsense and lies people are able to propagate is astounding. It’s acceptable to call the President Barack Obama a Muslim as if that’s somehow a smear. The implication is that a Muslim should never be allowed to be President, which is chillingly backwards and wrong. Politicians and pundits regularly use ‘Muslim’ and ‘Terrorist’ as if they’re synonyms (even though American terrorism is mostly local) and law enforcement devotes disproportional resources to monitoring Muslims despite white supremacists and local violent groups being a bigger threat.
Of course, it’s not like much of the Arab world is in a position to talk. Saudi textbooks have numerous lies and smears against Jews and in that and other countries it’s either illegal or dangerous to not be a Muslim.
Second Aside: Free Speech
You could say that there’s a different concept of free speech in the west, but it’s not quite that. Western speech is limited, specifically by hate speech laws, protecting Jews and often gays and other minorities from defamation and threats. As William Saletan argues in the above-linked piece, they should probably loosen up all of these hate speech laws rather than randomly exempting Muslims from protection.
The Point: Trolling
At the same time, however, these recurring controversies show that the nation state is no longer even the relevant unit. People in Indonesia (and Sri Lanka) are protesting over an obscure video made in California. There was a similar controversy over cartoons in the Netherlands. This is, in many ways, an inoculation for sensitive Muslims against a world that is somewhat free, and to nations where media is not state controlled. In these protest there is the idea that America or YouTube is to blame when in fact there just spaces which contain largely free speech.
As more people enter the digital world they’ll find that they’re coming in contact with a wide range of people, including a significant proportion of assholes. While governments and service providers do need to regulate, you can’t regulate trolling, which is essentially what this is, at least in the current video case. The best recipe for fighting trolls remains to not feed them. Of course block, monitor, whatever, but that’s generally a site’s prerogative in the context of what they choose to publish (like I moderate comments that get out of control). You can’t really ask ‘someone’ to control what’s on the broader Internet without it being self-destructive, ie, hurting an awesome system if it is controlled or making you look silly when it inevitably isn’t.