Back in late September, ICSR was widely referred to in the media when we highlighted the wide availability of Anwar al-Awlaki’s speeches on Youtube and the potential radicalising effect that this can have. It now seems we weren’t the only ones who were concerned, as last weekend Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-New York) publically called for the online video sharing group to remove the hundreds of videos of Awlaki that are readily available on their site.
In his letter to Youtube Chief Executive, Chad Hurley, Weiner wrote:
A known terrorist named Anwar al-Awlaki, dubbed the ‘bin-Laden of the Internet,’ has been using YouTube to promote his extremist ideology and recruit a new generation of terrorists
I am asking that you remove all videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki from your website and set up safeguards to prevent future videos from being posted.
In a response, sent to CNN, Youtube claimed that its policies,
prohibit videos that promote dangerous or illegal activities (including bomb-making, sniper attacks, or other terrorist acts), contain hate speech, and videos that are posted with the purpose of inciting others to commit specific, serious acts of violence. In addition, we remove all videos and terminate any account known to be registered by a member of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and used in an official capacity to further the interests of the FTO. We review all videos brought to our attention through community flagging 7 days a week, and routinely remove content that violates our policies, usually in under an hour.
This is a very carefully worded response; note, for example, the reference to ‘specific’ acts of violence. The vast majority of Awlaki’s audio and video materials do not tell followers to attack specific locations or people, rather they are designed to deliver the Salafi-jihadist ideology in a way so as to appeal to westerners, and in particular, English speakers.
Fundamentally, this comes down to two main issues: online censorship and what level of responsibility Youtube and other similar social network sites have towards ensuring that extremist messages are not disseminated through their systems. On the former, this is still very much unresolved and what should and should not be censored online is a matter for legislators – the problem is the speed at which the internet community moves and changes is, as yet, too fast for sluggish government bureaucracies to react to. The latter is more of a question of ethics and corporate responsibility; if certain material is on the edge of legality, but not clearly incitement to murder or violence, and comes from the mouth of a known extremist, should they take it upon themselves to censor it? I’ll leave it to our readers to give their opinions on this.