US websites like YouTube could face being taken down in the UK, if they do not remove al-Qaeda’s hate videos from their site. Such is the anger amongst UK government ministers about the failure of YouTube to remove content that incites murder, that serious pressure will be put on US politicians to change the law governing online intermediaries.
It would not be surprising if YouTube executives end up facing sanctions that could even include criminal charges – unless they act to make sure all its content is checked before appearing on the site; with obvious consequences for the firm’s profitability. Perhaps Google heard Home Secretary Theresa May’s clear message of intent today about the dangers of online terrorist propaganda. Internet executives should heed her warning that “to regard those online services as being somehow beyond the reach of our intelligence services and police makes no sense.”
This follows the attempted murder of British MP Stephen Timms last May by a female fanatic inspired by Yemen based terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki – who is wanted for the parcel bomb plot to blow up aircraft.
Despite requests by US congressmen such as New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, to take down 700 videos that pose a clear threat to the public, the videos remain on YouTube’s site. And requests by the UK government have similarly fallen on deaf ears.
YouTube claims that its guidelines prohibit videos that promote dangerous or illegal activities (including bomb-making, sniper attacks, or other terrorist acts), contain hate speech, and videos that are posted with the purpose of inciting others to commit specific, serious acts of violence.
But it seems that as long as a video isn’t actually posted by a “registered” terrorist organization, jihadists are given a forum to express themselves.
Such is the frustration of the UK authorities at what would in the UK constitute criminal acts by YouTube itself, that Baroness Neville-Jones, the Security Minister, has urged the US to order American websites hosting al-Qaeda videos to remove them. And the UK Home Office is putting pressure on the White House to take this issue seriously.
Given that Awlaki inspired the US Army major who shot dead 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, last year, is linked to the September 11 attacks and the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit last year, it is astonishing that YouTube continues to allow him to recruit using their website. Proof positive that Obama’s administration does not take the terrorist threat seriously enough.
A Congressional subcommittee discussed the problem of online terror recruiting in June. It seems like they were more concerned, however, that making online services responsible for keeping terror recruiting off the internet could have significant harmful effect on the growth of the internet. Never mind protecting US citizens, protecting online providers remains Congress’ priority.
But the Telecommunications Act Congress passed in 1996, in which Section 230 says online service providers cannot be held responsible for the content posted by their users, could of course be repealed. Thus YouTube’s inaction on terrorist propaganda threatens many other internet “intermediaries” as well as its own business model.
Testifying on the behalf of the Center for Democracy & Technology – a Washington, D.C. based non-profit public-interest group that works to promote an open, innovative and free internet – its General Counsel John Morris said: “If Congress compelled YouTube to examine each one of these videos before allowing it to be posted online to ensure that it didn’t have objectionable content, YouTube simply couldn’t continue to operate as an open forum for user expression.” But isn’t this the whole point?