The stock market, at least, values Netflix like a technology company. Its streaming service does send content over the internet after all. But as the tech industry has been publicly flogged for the past several years, Netflix has only burnished its brand, with tech workers, Millennials, and the general public.
Two recent stories suggest that Netflix may not stay outside the critic zone forever, however. Yesterday, the company admitted that it had pulled an episode of Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj from its service in Saudi Arabia. In the episode, Minhaj harshly criticizes the Saudi government’s shifting explanations of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He also suggests that the United States is complicit in the ongoing tragedy in Yemen through its support for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Saudi authorities apparently filed the takedown with reference to the country’s anti-cybercrime laws. Netflix, for its part, said, “We strongly support artistic freedom and removed this episode only in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request—and to comply with local law.”
The Netflix response has a we-can-have-it-both-ways scent that feels distinctly pre-2016 for other tech companies. Even as Netflix bowed to the government pressure, it asks to be seen as a hero of the arts.