YouTube declines request to remove terrorist-produced videos

Google says most videos sponsored by terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda don't violate its community guidelines

YouTube has refused a request from US Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) to remove all videos sponsored by terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, contending that most of them don't violate its community guidelines.

Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Monday called on the Google Inc subsidiary to remove video content produced by terrorist organizations that showed assassinations, deaths of US soldiers and civilians, weapons training, "incendiary" speeches and other material intended to "encourage violence against the West."

"Islamist terrorist organizations use YouTube to disseminate their propaganda, enlist followers, and provide weapons training," Lieberman said in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "YouTube also, unwittingly, permits Islamist terrorist groups to maintain an active, pervasive, and amplified voice, despite military setbacks or successful operations by the law enforcement and intelligence communities."

In the letter, Lieberman noted that while YouTube posts community guidelines for its users, it does not appear that the company follows the guidelines. For example, he noted that despite rules that prohibit gratuitous violence on the site, there are videos of Al-Qaeda attacks on US forces in which some soldiers are killed or injured.

When contacted, Google pointed to a YouTube blog post that said the company has removed some of the videos cited by Lieberman, primarily because they depicted gratuitous violence, advocated violence or used hate speech. However, the post also noted that most of the videos in question remain on the site "because they do not violate our community guidelines."

"Hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube every day," the YouTube blog post said. "Because it is not possible to pre-screen this much content, we have developed an innovative and reliable community policing system that involves our users in helping us enforce YouTube's standards. Millions of users report potential violations of our community guidelines."

YouTube went on to say that it encourages free speech and defends the right of its users to express unpopular points of view

"We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds," the company said. "Of course, users are always free to express their disagreement with a particular video on the site, by leaving comments or their own response video. That debate is healthy."

Mark Hopkins, a blogger for Mashable, noted that YouTube has been "capricious and arbitrary" in deciding what content promotes hate speech or violence and should be removed. For example, he pointed out that YouTube took down a video showing victims of a Muslim terrorist attack, but allowed videos of homeless people who were paid to beat each other. A video of clothed females in Hong Kong with derogatory music towards women being played in the background was removed, while a video of a strip tease with nudity was allowed to remain on the site, he noted.

"[Lieberman's] primary concerns weren't the usual suspects when you think of the things that American politicians find objectionable (rap music, graphic portrayals of violence, Grand Theft Auto and Janet Jackson's nipple)," Hopkins noted.

Instead Lieberman brought up a topic that YouTube should be called on -- allowing itself to be a participant in the dissemination of propaganda videos produced by Islamic terrorist organizations, Hopkins said. "If YouTube can spend millions enforcing DMCA and piracy concerns, they can take a few minutes and respond to valid citizen complaints against usage of the system to promote terrorist organizations," he added.

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