September 13, 2012, 1:40 PM —
When politics collide with social media, the results are often disastrous and sometimes tragic. The anti-American protests in Cairo this week, the attack on the US Consulate in Libya, and the fallout affecting the US presidential race – all have their roots in YouTube and Twitter.
You may already know this story. If not, here’s a quick summary, starting with the video.
Last July, a guy calling himself Sam Bacile (real name Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a convicted fraudster) posted a 14-minute “trailer” for a film he made called “Innocence of Muslims” on YouTube. It’s a nasty piece of propaganda that is laughably bad and seems solely designed to tick off as many devout Muslims as possible. (It’s still available on YouTube as I write this, but I’m not linking to it. Search for “The Muhammad Movie” and you should find it.)
Fortunately at the time almost no one saw it. Unfortunately, a conservative provocateur named Morris Sadek overdubbed it with an Arabic soundtrack and posted it on YouTube last week, then blogged about it. An Egyptian TV station played a clip from it on air. That’s when the video went viral – and things got ugly.
A US embassy official in Cairo, Larry Schwartz, attempted to stave off an angry mob from gathering by condemning the video on Twitter. His tweets didn’t work. A few hours later the mob managed to enter the embassy compound, burning American flags and creating mayhem.
On the same day – the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – armed militia attacked the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Some of the soldiers cited the YouTube video as the reason they attacked.
(Personally I am doubtful this attack was a spontaneous reaction to the video; judging from the news reports and the timing, it seemed too large and too well coordinated. But I digress.)
A few hours later the Mitt Romney campaign saw the tweets from the US embassy and seized upon them, accusing the Obama administration of sympathizing with the protestors, even though a) the tweets came before the attacks, and b) they weren’t sent or endorsed by the White House. As I write this the Romney camp has yet to back down on these claims.