YouTube block comes and goes in Georgia amid government sex tape allegations

Google’s YouTube, the world’s biggest video site, is no stranger to getting blocked in some countries when content uploaded by users runs against state policies on media and public information. The latest chapter in that story comes from Georgia — the country, not the U.S. state — where YouTube became inaccessible on the country’s biggest ISPs, with some linking the outage to sex tapes featuring government officials getting uploaded to the site.

The matter, for the moment, appears to be resolved, with full access to YouTube restored, and the videos removed. However, the story may not be over, as it looks like the people posting the videos are threatening to release more if certain members of the government do not resign (h/t Onnik Krikorian).

According to reports from Georgian blog, there was no access to YouTube over the two leading ISPs in the country, Silknet and Caucasus Online, both on Friday and Monday in the wake of the videos getting posted. Neither ISP has responded to questions we have sent them. Silknet told that the outage was because of an unspecified technical problem.

Google, for its part, says it also has not been involved in any block. “We saw reports that some users were unable to access YouTube in Georgia earlier today. There was no technical issue on our side,” Google spokesperson Alla Zabrovskaya told us in response to our questions.

This seems to be contradicted in some of the local reporting on the situation, however, with Georgia’s State Security Service claiming YouTube blocked the video after it intervened.

The motivations behind these videos getting posted — which are not the first to surface in any case — also seem to be mixed. While the identity of the people posting the videos is not clear, the subjects of them appear to be members of the country’s opposition party.

It looks like the videos highlight a few ongoing issues: maintaining the privacy of the individuals in the videos; corruption of those who may be behind the videos getting made and being made public; and finally how sites used for a variety of purposes are getting clumsily caught in political crossfire.

If the Georgian government was involved in this takedown of YouTube, it raises questions about freedom of speech and its potential for blocking the site more arbitrarily for its own ends.

YouTube being blocked in its entirety over single pieces of content would not be unprecedented. In Georgia, at one point the whole of WordPress was blocked when the government was actually aiming to take down certain pages that were hosting pro-ISIS content (those specific pages remain blocked, while the rest of WordPress is up).

And in Russia, the whole video site was blocked after the regulator deemed that certain content encouraged suicidal tendencies (it was a how-to video for applying Halloween makeup).

YouTube, like many other sites heavy on user-generated content, has maintained a position of complying with local laws, while itself supporting the idea of freedom of information.

We’ll continue to look out for developments on this story and any responses from the ISPs.