YouTube hit for al Qaeda posts; re­fuses Lieber­man de­mand to re­move videos

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Shaun Water­man

Sen. Joe Lieber­man on May 19 called for YouTube to re­move al Qaeda videos that users had posted, but the site said most of the videos his of­fice had flagged did not con­tain ma­te­rial which vi­o­lated its guide­lines and re­jected his re­quest.

In a let­ter to Eric Sch­midt, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Google Inc., which owns YouTube, Mr. Lieber­man urged the pop­u­lar video-shar­ing ser­vice to en­force its “com­mu­nity guide­lines” against “graphic or gra­tu­itous vi­o­lence,” and said the com­pany should change its rules “to ad­dress vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist ma­te­rial.”

Mr. Lieber­man, Con­necti­cut in­de­pen­dent, wrote that re­mov­ing videos from al Qaeda and other ex­trem­ist groups should be straight­for­ward, be­cause “so many of the Is­lamist ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions brand their ma­te­rial with lo­gos or icons iden­ti­fy­ing their prove­nance.”

In a blog post­ing, YouTube said it wel­comed the di­a­logue with Mr. Lieber­man but noted that “most of the videos” his of­fice had drawn to its at­ten­tion “did not con­tain vi­o­lent or hate speech con­tent” and had not been re­moved from the site “be­cause they do not vi­o­late our Com­mu­nity Guide­lines.”

YouTube, which hosts mil­lions of videos posted daily by its user­com­mu­nity, also re­jected the idea that it should pre-screen con­tent for videos pro­duced by al Qaeda and other ter­ror groups.

The blog post­ing said the site “en­cour­ages free speech and de­fends ev­ery­one’s right 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.”

An aide for Mr. Lieber­man said the ma­te­rial that he was con­cerned about went be­yond the bounds of ac­cept­able free speech.

“It is not rea­son­able for an al Qaeda spokesman to visit the United States and try to re­cruit and build sup­port here,” the aide told United Press In­ter­na­tional. “Why is it rea­son­able for the same per­son to do that in this vir­tual com­mu­nity?”

Mr. Lieber­man’s crit­ics think the sen­a­tor is mis­un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of the In­ter­net.

“There is noth­ing YouTube or Sen­a­tor Lieber­man can do to keep th­ese videos off the In­ter­net,” said John Mor­ris, se­nior coun­sel at the Cen­ter for Democ­racy and Tech­nol­ogy, adding that most of the pro­pa­ganda videos pro­duced by al Qaeda and other groups “con­tained noth­ing that is il­le­gal.”

Mr. Mor­ris also pointed out that re­mov­ing such ma­te­rial au­to­mat­i­cally might not be easy. “The idea that they would have to re­view ev­ery video [posted], even by a semi-au­to­mated process, is not a prac­ti­cal re­al­ity,” he said.

Ben N. Ven­zke, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of In­telCen­ter, a private con­trac­tor that mon­i­tors ex­trem­ist Web com­mu­ni­ca­tions for clients in­clud­ing the U.S. gov­ern­ment, put it this way: “If au­to­mated means were used to iden­tify ma­te­rial, would a news re­port or doc­u­men­tary con­tain­ing the same ma­te­rial [. . . ] be blocked or re­moved sim­ply be­cause the logo [of al Qaeda or an­other ter­ror group] ap­peared [in it]?”

United Press In­ter­na­tional

Google Inc. de­nied a re­quest by Sen. Joe Lieber­man, greet­ing a crowd in Chicago on May 19, to block al Qaeda videos from YouTube.

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