YouTube has recently purged thousands of videos from a prominent extremist cleric, according to a report from The New York Times.
Many videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 by a U.S. drone strike, have long been available for users to watch. The content is often used for terrorist propaganda, as al-Awlaki was a senior recruiter and operative for al-Qaida.
His enlistment efforts could still conceivably be highly effective posthumously, as YouTube’s platform has offered thousands of videos related to him and his teachings. In fact, his popularity may have grown even further after his death due to unique perceptions of purported martyrdom. But the total videos related to the man is down to 18,600 from 70,000, reports TheNYT, due to apparent efforts from YouTube in recent weeks.
“It’s a watershed moment on the question of whether we’re going to allow the unchecked proliferation of cyberjihad,” said Mark D. Wallace, the chief executive of the Counter Extremism Project, according to TheNYT. “You just don’t want to make it easy for people to listen to a guy who wants to harm us.”
Tech firms — like Facebook, Twitter and Google, which is owned by Alphabet and also owns YouTube — have been pressured in recent years (and even more so, in recent months) to do whatever it takes to remove content associated with terrorism. Furthermore, the industry has sometimes been blamed for empowering evildoers by making their platform far too available for so many people of all walks of life.
Families still grieving from the Orlando nightclub shooting last year, for example, filed a federal civil suit against Google, Facebook and Twitter. The relatives of the victims contend that that the three web platforms “provided the terrorist group ISIS with accounts they use to spread extremist propaganda, raise funds, and attract new recruits.”
“Without Defendants Twitter, Facebook, and Google (YouTube), the explosive growth of ISIS over the last few years into the most feared terrorist group in the world would not have been possible,” the lawsuit stated. (There have been many lawsuits directed at these companies with such an argument).
The shooter, who killed at least 49 people and wounded as many as 58 other civilians, pledged allegiance to ISIS prior to opening fire inside the Pulse nightclub June 2016.
“Mateen was radicalized by ISIS using the defendants tools for that express purpose,” Keith Altman, the lawyer for the three families, told Fox News.
The Daily Caller News Foundation spoke to several lawyers and legal experts, who all said in some form that suing these tech companies is a foolish and difficult endeavor because of legislation and constitutional rights already on the books.
Specifically, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “provides a safeharbor for an ‘interactive computer service,’ such as Twitter or Facebook,” Josh Blackman, an associate professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, told TheDCNF. “Beyond Section 230, the First Amendment serves as a significant barrier.”
Blackman cited a case called Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in which certain organizations were accused of giving legal advice to foreign groups the U.S. government classified as terrorists. The reason the Supreme Court permitted the prosecution under the First Amendment is because the defendants “knowingly” provided help. Blackman highlights that this will be very hard to prove with Facebook, Twitter and Google, especially since these companies, for the most part, use algorithms. (RELATED: Diplomat Says Tech Giants Have More Power Than Most Countries)
Perhaps due to these fairly clear protections and since they rather not always be forced by the rule of law, such companies will likely push ahead with their own initiatives to get terrorist content off their respective platforms. A Google executive pledged in June to do more to stop bad actors like terrorists from using the platform for their nefarious endeavors.
Google and YouTube operate under the same massive umbrella, so the dip in numbers may be a sign that Alphabet and its subsidiaries are taking the problem even more seriously.
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