April 9, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 956

YouTube Questioned In U.K. House Of Commons Over Keeping Terrorism-Promoting Videos Active On Its Website; Of 125 Videos Of Al-Qaeda Commander Al-Zawahiri Flagged On YouTube By MEMRI, YouTube Keeps 57 Active

April 9, 2013 | By Steven Stalinsky and Elliot Zweig*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 956

Jihadi Videos On YouTube

Over the past three years, and based on research by the MEMRI Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) project, we have determined that YouTube has emerged as the leading website for online jihad. It has replaced – and surpassed – websites administered by jihadis themselves, which were previously the leaders in online jihadi efforts. During this time, we have offered our assistance to YouTube in identifying videos that incite violence and terrorist acts for possible removal.

The most recent example of this is a video of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, released on multiple YouTube pages on April 6, 2013, and also released simultaneously on jihadi websites. In the video, Al-Zawahiri calls upon viewers to "exert every effort to make [Syria] a jihad-fighting Islamic state" that will be a step towards "restoring the rightly-guided caliphate." Addressing the Muslims in these countries, he urged them to support the mujahideen, and expressed his particular hope that the French forces in Mali would face the same difficulties as the U.S. faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. The video, as posted by user "arslan ifriki," had almost 17,000 views on the first day; viewers were also given links to other users' postings of the same video.

The Al-Zawahiri video posted April 6, 2013.

As documented by previous MEMRI reports, MEMRI met with Google Inc. and YouTube representatives to discuss the issue of jihadi videos. YouTube then committed to introducing a flagging system whereby users could flag videos to alert YouTube that they included content that "promotes terrorism." Following the introduction of this system, MEMRI flagged jihadi YouTube videos of Osama bin Laden and 9/11-glorification videos, as well as videos by and of the late Yemeni-American Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki, the influential jihadi cleric and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader. Of the former, 58 of 100 remained active even after MEMRI's flagging; of the latter, 111 out of 127 remained active.

Not only has MEMRI identified YouTube as one of the main jihadi vehicles, but this subject is of great concern to counterterrorism experts worldwide. In the U.K., jihadi and terrorist videos on YouTube is so great a problem that it was the focus of a recent inquiry by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee.

U.K. House Of Commons Home Affairs Committee Questions YouTube Over Keeping Jihadi Videos Active On Its Website

On February 26, 2013, members of the Home Affairs Committee of the U.K. House of Commons (for more, see Appendix) questioned executives from social media giants Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube regarding the monitoring of content on their respective platforms.

Members in attendance were Keith Vaz (Chair), James Clappison, Michael Ellis, Steve McCabe, Bridget Phillipson, Mark Reckless, Chris Ruane, and David Winnick; representing social media companies were Sarah Hunter (YouTube/Google), Simon Milner (Facebook), and Sinead McSweeney (Twitter).

Questioning Follows Conviction Of Three For Planning Massive Suicide Bombing – One Of Whom Urged Others To Heed Words Of Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki, Which Are Widely Available On YouTube

This collection of oral evidence was undertaken in response to the conviction of three men who, after a 14-week trial, were found guilty of planning a massive suicide bombing attack. During their trial, a recording of one of the accused was played; in it, he instructed the others to listen to the words of Anwar Al-Awlaki. Many of Awlaki's messages are available on YouTube.

Most of the questions focused on how the companies monitor and offer options for flagging or otherwise identifying any jihadi or terrorist content posted to their sites. These questions were general, except when it came to YouTube.

Committee Asks Why Jihadi Videos Inciting Religious And Racial Hatred Remain On YouTube

YouTube representative Sarah Hunter was questioned repeatedly and very specifically about how YouTube handles jihadi videos.

Home Affairs Committee chairman Rt. Hon. Keith Vaz, who led the questioning of Ms. Hunter, opened by stating that preaching by Al-Awlaki – some of which clearly incites religious and racial hatred – remain on YouTube, and asked why such videos were available. Ms. Hunter responded that Google "in no way condone[s] the use of YouTube for terrorist content, and to that end we have very, very strict community guidelines on YouTube that go way beyond the law… it is not allowed on YouTube to post content that is inciting violence; it is not allowed to post content that is hate speech. When a user flags to us that there is content up on there that is breaking those guidelines, we review that content and we take it down, and these flags get reviewed within an hour."

YouTube Relies On Its Users To Flag Jihadi Videos – And Only Then Reviews Them

Mr. Vaz then asked how many people YouTube has conducting these reviews. Ms. Hunter replied that there were many, and added that the reviewers are "spread across the globe," so that when a video is flagged it is immediately reviewed.

Mr. Vaz then asked why Osama bin Laden content is still on YouTube; Ms. Hunter replied that "when content gets flagged to us as having broken our guidelines, these people review it, and they look at every single one and they look at it very carefully, and they look at the context. They look at what is actually being said, and they look at whether it is indeed inciting violence."

In response to Mr. Vaz's question regarding whether all the references to Al-Awlaki have been looked at, Ms. Hunter said that if the video was flagged, then yes. She then explained the flagging procedure, at his request, adding that she did not know whether every Al-Awlaki video was flagged, even though anyone could flag one.

Mr. Vaz asked Ms. Hunter if she herself had viewed any Al-Awlaki videos; she confirmed that she had, but that she had not personally seen all of them. She added: "It is just worth remembering the scale of content on YouTube. There are 72 hours of content uploaded on to YouTube every single minute of the day, so it is just physically not possible for us to look at every single video that gets uploaded. We rely on our users, and there are hundreds of millions of people across the world looking at YouTube all the time. When they tell us there is content that breaks the guidelines, that is when our team kicks in, reviews it, and removes it."

YouTube Doesn't Know How Many Jihadi Videos Have Been Flagged Or Removed – Committee Demands Answer In Writing

In answer to Mr. Vaz's question about whether she could tell him how many videos were removed as a result of somebody alleging a criminal act is being incited, Ms. Hunter said that he did not have specific numbers; to his question regarding how it could be that "an Internet company like yours, with so many databases, so many experts, will not know how many people have flagged a particular video," Ms. Hunter replied that the figures might be available internally, but that she would need to ask for them in order to provide the information to the Committee. Mr. Vaz concluded by asking her to inform the Committee of the figures in writing.

Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri Videos On YouTube

Currently, the Al-Qaeda leader is Ayman Al-Zawahiri; he was Osama bin Laden's deputy until bin Laden was killed in May 2011. Previously, following 9/11, Al-Zawahiri was placed on the initial list of the FBI's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists. The U.S. State Department's Rewards For Justice Program is now offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading directly to his apprehension or conviction.

MEMRI Flags Al-Zawahiri Videos

On November 28, 2012, MEMRI flagged 125 YouTube videos of Ayman Al-Zawahiri. As of this writing, 68 out of 125 flagged videos have been removed. The pages of the removed videos state either that the clip was removed "because its content violated YouTube's Terms of Service" or that "the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated."

The following are the 125 videos flagged by MEMRI:

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