YouTube has become a veritable clearinghouse for any and every video imaginable — from the gross, to the poignant, to the hilarious, it’s all there. But despite its mainstream appeal, YouTube also has become an outlet for jihadi propaganda and violent proselytizing.
Hoping to stifle the spread of radicalism, four congressmen have sent a letter to YouTube Chief Executive Chad Hurley asking why it is that the site has continued to allow terrorists to post videos.
“Taking advantage of the very freedoms they wish to limit in the vast domain of the internet, they spread an ideology that seeks to radicalize and indoctrinate vulnerable people. In short, it preaches that America is the devil, the Americans themselves are bent on the destruction of Islam and that a violent response is required by all true believers,” Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe, California Republican Rep. Edward Royce, Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Illinios Rep. Donald Manzullo wrote to Hurley.
According to the four members, one of the most frequently featured jihadist on YouTube, with about 1,910 videos, is Anwar-Al-Awlaki — the imam credited with inspiring the 2007 attempted attack at Fort Dix, the 2009 Fort Hood Massacre and the failed 2009 Christmas day airplane bomb.
Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), told The Daily Caller that the reason for the large number of terrorists on YouTube is the fact that, as jihadi websites have been shut down by host companies and the government, they have found alternative outlets for their materials on social networking sites such as YouTube.
“As this has happened — and the US government has also been involved in shutting down a lot of these websites — a lot of al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been depending on YouTube and other social media outlets to get their message across. It is easier and there is a less chance that its going to get shut down or removed,” Stalinsky told The Daily Caller.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told CNN in 2009 that she did not have a solution for the problem of jihadi social media. “I think it is fair to say that social media is having an impact. It is an illustration of how this is a changing environment,” She said, “This is the dark side of the Internet and social media and I don’t know right now if anybody has a silver bullet for it.”
Poe told TheDC that the way to solve the problem of the social network-savvy terrorist is to demand responsibility on the part of site owners.
“These social networks need social responsibility,” Poe said. “They already take down questionable videos, in their opinion: pornography, racist comments — they have some type of standard. They need to add to that standard: people who advocate for the murder of Americans.”
According to Stalinsky, over the last several weeks Osama bin Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda American spokesman Adam Gadahn have each posted new propaganda videos, all of which remain on the site.
“We would like to know what YouTube’s strategy is for dealing with terrorist videos posted on its site and why it has continued to allow videos like Al-Awlaki’s to remain,” the congressmen wrote.
Stalinsky says that the main problem is that YouTube just does not appear to have a coherent policy and until they do the problems will persist.
“I think it’s a positive first step that this letter has been sent, but to date, YouTube sort of has a mantra saying that you can flag videos and we take that into consideration but, based on my experience, flagging jihad videos that are still up there, it’s really a joke,” Stalinsky said “This problem should be expected only to increase in the future until they come up with a clear policy. They have no real policy and they’re not dealing with this in any way and it’s a very serious thing.”
If YouTube does not give a prompt response Poe and his colleagues will insist on a congressional hearing. It is not a debate about free speech, it is a national security issue, Poe said.
YouTube did not respond to request for comment.