You are hereLA Times: YouTube is letting users decide on terrorism-related videos

LA Times: YouTube is letting users decide on terrorism-related videos


The company has been under fire from lawmakers for refusing to prescreen militant speeches and propaganda videos. Now users can mark such uploads for removal.

December 12, 2010- Nudity. Sexual activity. Animal abuse. All are reasons YouTube users can flag a video for removal from the website. Add a new category: promotes terrorism.

YouTube and its parent company, Google, have been criticized by lawmakers for refusing to prescreen militant speeches and propaganda videos that have been cited in more than a dozen terrorism investigations over the last five years.

But rather than submit to policies that many argue would amount to an erosion of 1st Amendment rights, particularly in an open-access environment such as the Internet, YouTube is taking a decidedly more democratic path — let the customers decide.

The approach puts YouTube in the middle of a debate over whether it is possible to protect free speech and deny militants a powerful recruitment tool — slick videos glorifying jihad that reach into the laptops and minds of disaffected young Americans.

After years of calling on YouTube to take down content produced by Islamic extremists, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) called the new flagging protocols a "good first step toward scrubbing mainstream Internet sites of terrorist propaganda."

"But it shouldn't take a letter from Congress — or in the worst possible case, a successful terrorist attack — for YouTube to do the right thing," said Lieberman, whose staff has met with YouTube officials on the issue.

Yet the new category also is "potentially troubling," said George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, because the phrase "promotes terrorism" is more subject to interpretation than the longstanding language in the YouTube guidelines that specifically forbids material that incites others to commit violence.

In November, YouTube removed hundreds of videos that featured the American cleric Anwar Awlaki, whom U.S. officials have designated a "global terrorist," after Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) wrote then-YouTube Chief Executive Chad Hurley a letter detailing Awlaki's appearance in more than 700 videos with 3.5 million page views on the site.

Despite YouTube's action, dozens of Awlaki's speeches are easily found on the site, and users who play the speeches are directed to dozens of other Islamic militant videos under a "suggestions" column.

YouTube has been a favorite tool of Awlaki, who is believed to be hiding in Yemen with other members of the organization Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. U.S. law enforcement officials think Awlaki's preaching influenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is accused of trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day; Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber; and Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, in November 2009.

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