The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today asked Google, the parent company of the popular online video-sharing site, YouTube, to “immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations” and prevent similar content from reappearing. However, the company immediately refused to comply with his request.
Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) made the request in a letter to Eric Schmidt, the chairman of the board and CEO at Google, in which he said that YouTube “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.”
Lieberman asked the company not only to remove existing content but also identify changes that Google plans to make to YouTube’s community guidelines and explain how it plans to enforce the guidelines. Lieberman said removing such content should be “a straightforward task since so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance.”
However, YouTube in a response this afternoon, said taking those actions was not so simple and refused to remove all videos mentioning or featuring these groups without consideration of whether the videos were legal, nonviolent or non-hate speech videos.
“While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view,” the company said. “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 statement thanked Lieberman for alerting the company last week of several videos which violated the company’s community guidelines and that have subsequently been removed. However, the statement said that “most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines.”
YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit hate speech and ask users not to post videos that show someone getting hurt, attacked or humiliated. According to the YouTube Community Guidelines, users can flag videos they feel are inappropriate, which may then be removed from the site by the company after review.
Lieberman’s letter comes after his committee released a report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat,” May 8 that said chatrooms, message boards and Web sites can play critical roles in recruitment, indoctrination into violent Islamist theology, linking radicalized individuals and providing information to independent terrorists unaffiliated with organizations. The report also said the government needs to develop a plan to counter terrorist groups’ increasing reliance on the Internet.
However, whatever federal strategy is developed may face scrutiny from critics who say the committee’s May 8 report unfairly singled out Muslims as possible extremists, in addition to civil libertarians and privacy advocates concerned with protecting free speech and Internet freedom.
John Morris, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, said Lieberman’s letter was a practical impossibility and having sites such as YouTube pre-screen content would radically change how the Internet is used.
YouTube noted in its statement that hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to the site daily. “The government can’t get involved in suppressing videos if the content is not illegal,” Morris said, explaining that such a policy would likely face stiff opposition from advocates of First Amendment rights.