UN: YouTube video policy may destroy evidence against extremists

YouTube, the online video-sharing platform owned by Google, is used by adults and children alike to post and view all types of content–and can also be a tool for catching extremists, according to the United Nations.

Last month, the International Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), after a video appeared showing al-Werfalli executing three men who knelt before him with their hands tied behind their backs.

Crucial evidence

It is Google policy to not permit violent content, but the UN argues that while extremist videos are used as means for recruitment and propaganda, they can also serve as crucial evidence against extreimist atrocities, and while they should not be shared with them masses, they should be preserved in some way to be analysed.

Last July, YouTube announced it would be more diligent in how it handles the ways in which groups such as ISIS use its platform to share graphic content and recruit new potential terrorists. According to Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, a research bureau for civil journalists, “Syrian opposition groups have been using YouTube for five years and have published hundreds of videos.” But according to the United Nations, this material can also be very informative to counter-terrorism efforts.

Tougher measures

Earlier in the summer, Google announced it would take tougher measures in particular against content that may be used to radicalise and recruit extremists. According to the company’s general counsel, Kent Walker, “While we and others have worked for years to identify and remove content that violates our policies, the uncomfortable truth is that we, as an industry, must acknowledge that more needs to be done. Now.” The company will also increase its collaborative efforts with counter-extremist groups to identify and remove extremist content.

Google’s current policy also limits news outlets’ ability to share evidence and information–including Terror.news, which had to remove video related to Werfalli in its own coverage of the story of his arrest warrant.

Last June, German parliament adopted a law that would allow social media companies such as YouTube to be fined for not removing violent videos quickly enough. Fines can be up to 5o million euro if the content is not removed within 24 hours. The law will go into effect in October.