Progress in the fight against online radicalisation

November 19, 2017

YouTube, the world’s most popular video site, is limiting its archive of propaganda material recorded by known extremists. This does not appear to be a complete purge, however.
As of November 16, a search of YouTube showed 63,700 results for videos on the life and controversial death by US drone strike of the Yemeni-American radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. The extremist preacher is said to have substantially influenced major terrorist incidents in the United States and in Europe, including those that caused multiple deaths.
Another search of YouTube turned up 1,940 results for sermons and recitations by Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad al-Muhaysini, the al-Qaeda-linked Saudi cleric considered one of the most influential jihadist ideologues in Syria. Like Awlaki before his death, Muhaysini figures on the US government’s list of desig­nated terrorists.
Clearly, YouTube has a long way to go in the task it has set for itself. And yet, the fact that it has begun to take down even non-graphic content by listed extremists is encouraging.
For all too long, social media companies have dissembled about the extent of their responsibility in serving as distribution channels for extremist groups. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Google have all simplistically questioned the rights and wrongs of regulating content, claiming that they don’t create such content but merely make it available.
These companies sorely missed the point. The violent videos posted by extremists on social media glorified terrorism and encour­aged copycat activities by would-be jihadists.
While the companies argued and flip-flopped, jihadist content — overt or covert, incendiary or merely insidious — proliferated.
Awlaki is a case in point, which is probably why YouTube has focused on removing his recordings. His videos have left a trail of terrorist radicalisation around the world and the narrative of his alleged martyrdom in Yemen at the hands of the Americans could only stoke anger.
YouTube is said to be relying on govern­ment lists of terrorists and terrorist groups to check its offerings. This is a start but the attempt to remove content from the internet must be followed by further action. By itself, this long-overdue move cannot win the war against a perverted ideology that celebrates death and violence. It can, however, make it that much harder to pass around and pros­elytise.