Testing YouTube's 'Promotes Terrorism' Flagging Feature Part IV: Platform Features Videos Celebrating Martyrs And Martyrdom By Al-Qaeda, ISIS, And Other Jihadi Organizations And Supporters Worldwide - GRAPHIC

June 15, 2017


In January 2015, MEMRI researched and flagged YouTube videos of support for jihadi fighters and "martyrs" and "martyrdom," to test the platform's "Promotes Terrorism" flagging feature. The test was a follow-up to MEMRI research and testing of jihad and terrorism on YouTube beginning in 2009, and to a MEMRI series of reports on "YouTube - The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base."

The Ongoing Controversy Over Google's Allowing Paid Advertising To Appear Next To Terrorist And Extremist Videos On YouTube Following the UK Terrorist Attacks

It should be noted that in mid-March 2017, major companies began halting or reducing advertising deals with YouTube owner Google because Google had allowed their brands to become intertwined with terrorist and extremist content on YouTube. These companies have, so far, included AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, the car rental company Enterprise Holdings, and drug manufacturer GSK. According to media reports, ordinary ads have been appearing alongside user-uploaded YouTube videos promoting hatred and extremism.

Following the June 3, 2017 London attacks, Google came under even more pressure. On June 6, UK media reported that Google was refusing to remove from YouTube extremist, hate-filled videos that inspired the attackers. The next day it was reported that Britain's three main political parties had pulled their campaign ads on YouTube because they were promoted next to extremist videos.

The following report sets out the results of MEMRI's new round of testing of how effectively YouTube removes videos connected to jihad and terrorism.

MEMRI Flags Martyrdom Videos On YouTube, Observes Results

The phenomenon of jihadis posting on YouTube videos of fighters "martyred" on jihadi fronts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and elsewhere has been growing for some time. Among the martyrs featured in the videos are prominent sheikhs, well-known writers on online jihadi forums, and rank-and-file fighters from many different terrorist/jihadi organizations, originating from the Middle East and other countries, including some in the West. These martyrdom YouTube videos serve multiple purposes: publicizing the martyrs' last wishes, celebrating their actions, informing the martyrs' family and friends of their deaths, and - especially - inspiring others by depicting the martyrs as heroes who should be emulated. These videos are also being disseminated by jihadis, jihadi groups, and jihadi sympathizers on social media to promote jihadi organizations.

Among the martyrdom videos on YouTube examined by MEMRI over the last two years are those showing and celebrating martyrs from jihadi fronts. It should be noted that these martyrs are also celebrated on social media, including Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. MEMRI has published a number of reports focusing on such content on these platforms.

YouTube remains a leading repository of such videos, and they number in the thousands on the website. It should be noted that YouTube's removal of jihadi content is spotty; in the past two years it has done a good job removing ISIS videos but has neglected to remove Al-Qaeda videos, such as those of and by Anwar Al Awlaki.

The videos flagged as part of this study included those focusing on martyrs from the Muslim world. In 2015, the MEMRI CJL flagged 115 videos of martyrs, and over the past two years, it has checked on the status of the flagged videos to see what, if anything, happened to them. The results are that after two years, 69 out of 115 videos remain active, highlighting the failure of YouTube's flagging system.

  • As of December 4, 2015: Of the 115 flagged, 80 (69.57%) remained active online.
  • As of May 19, 2016: Of the 115 flagged, 77 (66.96%) remained active online.
  • As of February 27, 2017: Of the 115 flagged, 69 (60%) remained active online.

MEMRI Research On Jihadi Content On YouTube Predates Spread Of Jihadi Content On Other Platforms

Within three years after MEMRI began releasing its reports on "YouTube - The Internet's Primary and Rapidly Expanding Jihadi Base," the problem had grown exponentially, to the point where YouTube finally began to address it. In 2012, MEMRI released a series of reports based on research by what was the precursor to its Cyber Jihad Lab project examining YouTube's claims that it removes jihadi videos from its platform, in particular ones that had been flagged.

This research, which predated the spread of jihadi content on Twitter, Facebook, and the encrypted messaging app Telegram, showed that YouTube had emerged as the leading website for online jihad, replacing and surpassing websites administered by jihadis themselves, primarily Al-Qaeda, which were previously the leaders in online jihadi efforts. At that time, MEMRI offered its assistance to YouTube for identifying videos that incite violence and terrorist acts, so that they could be evaluated for removal by YouTube.

MEMRI's tests of YouTube's flagging feature, as documented in a number of reports, showed that the majority of the videos flagged by MEMRI were not removed and instead remained online.

  • Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 9/11 attack glorification videos - 100 were flagged, 58 remained online.
  • Yemeni-American Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki videos - 127 were flagged, 111 remained online.
  • Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri videos - 125 were flagged, 57 remained online.

Seven Years After MEMRI Began Its Efforts To Get Extremist Content Removed From YouTube, The Problem Has Only Gotten Worse

Seven years have passed since MEMRI first launched efforts to get jihadi content removed from YouTube. As documented by previous MEMRI reports, in 2010, MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky met with senior-level representatives from Google Inc. and YouTube, including Google's senior policy counsel and free speech attorneys from the company, to discuss the issue of jihadi videos and why they should be removed. Shortly thereafter, YouTube committed to introducing a flagging feature whereby users could flag videos to alert YouTube that they included content that "promotes terrorism."

Also during this time, MEMRI worked with Members of Congress on this matter, resulting in a series of Congressional letters by Democrats and Republicans being sent to YouTube CEO Chad Hurley on September 29, 2010, and on October 24, 2010.

The following are the 115 videos of martyrs and martyrdom that MEMRI flagged on YouTube in 2015, with 69 of them remaining active as of February 27, 2017:


YouTube Martyrs - Non-Syria

  1. Title: A Martyr From the Taliban Laughs and Utters the Two Declarations [Of Faith] Before He is Martyred Date: July 5, 2011 Views: 2,802,390 Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exFmSXiS7tQ
  1. Title: Al-Muhajireen Brigade- Special Release [Dedicated to] Abu Aisha Al-Dani-Marki Date: May 6, 2013 Views: 15,228 Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBVotO3Z38E
  1. Title: Wonderful Song by Mujahid Abu Marya Al-Shishani in the Front Line Date: February 12, 2014 Views: 4,695 Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kw9LGGjY_GQ
  1. Title: Martyrs From Tunisia the Green [Land] in the Soil of Sham Date: March 16, 2013 Views: 1,141 Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ot2Tc-bQ5qw
  1. Title: Strangers From Different Nationalities Who Had Been United By Islam and Jihad in Sham Date: March 15, 2013 Views: 3,987 Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UueLcwseAXs
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