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Pressure Growing on Youtube to Remove Awlaki Sermons

03/11/2010

In the wake of revelations that Roshonara Choudary – who stabbed Stephen Timms MP because of his support for the Iraq war – was radicalised after accessing sermons by al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki online, the Daily Telegraph reports that Baroness Pauline Neville Jones, the security minister, has called on the White House to ensure the removal of his sermons from any US-based websites, including Youtube. Speaking to the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, she said:

When you have incitement to murder, when you have people actively calling for the killing of their fellow citizens and when you have the means to stop that person doing so, then I believe we should act.

Those websites would categorically not be allowed in the UK.

They incite cold-blooded murder and as such are surely contrary to the public good.

If they were hosted in the UK then we would take them down but this is a global problem. Many of these websites are hosted in America and we look forward to working even more closely with you to take down this hateful material.

Architect of a Global Jihadist Insurgency:  Screenshot of an Awlaki Interview

Indeed, there is no doubt that extremist Islamist materials are available on mainstream websites, but the problem is more complex than simply shutting down websites and forcing Youtube to remove the works of extremists. This is an issue which our recent report, ‘The Challenge of Online Radicalisation: A Strategy for Action’, covers in great detail. We argue that the problem of online radicalisation will require more nuanced responses such as:

  • the creation of an independent panel, jointly funded by industry and government, that will seek to strengthen the processes through which internet users can hold internet companies to account for the content that is published on their platforms
  • the founding of a start-up fund that will empower websites that counter the jihadist ideology
  • more focus on individual prosecutions where laws have been broken

According to ICSR Co-Director, Dr. Peter Neumann:

at ICSR, we have studied the problem of online radicalization for nearly two years now. Policy makers need to understand that there is no easy technical solution – closing down websites or removing controversial, yet legal, content is crude, expensive and counterproductive. In addition, senior intelligence officials around the world have told us that it’s better to monitor these websites than censor them. They are goldmines for counter-terrorist intelligence.

It is also worth noting that the very nature of the internet makes it impossible to stop the dissemination of extremist materials, as soon as one site is taken down, another appears with a slightly different name, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Also, if Youtube were to begin removing all of Awlaki’s sermons, they would find that many of them do not explicitly call for violence, and instead reinforce certain aspects of Islamist ideology or recount stories from the Koran and Hadith. It is not for Youtube to decide where the line should be drawn on this issue, and more guidance from the government and expert research institutes is required.

UPDATE

According to the Daily Telegraph, Youtube have now begun removing Awlaki’s materials from their site.