YouTube has removed thousands of videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki, the Islamic hate preacher that inspired terrorists including the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino shooters.
The New York Times reports that YouTube has finally cracked down on videos featuring the Islamic extremist Anwar al-Awlaki who previously inspired terrorist attacks across America including the Fort Hood gunman, the Boston Marathon bombers and the terrorists responsible for the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando. Following pressure to deal with extremist content on their platform, YouTube has removed thousands of videos featuring Awlaki.
Even after his death six years ago at the hands of a U.S. drone strike, Awlaki remains one of the world’s leading English-speaking jihadist recruiters, radicalizing many though his speeches which until recently could be easily accessed by anyone with an internet connection. Now, using new video identification technology, YouTube can automatically flag videos featuring Awlaki and human content reviewers can block the videos manually.
Previously, approximately 70,000 videos relating to Awlaki could be found on YouTube, a search for the Islamic extremist’s name now only returns approximately 18,600 videos. The videos left on the platform mainly discuss the legality of Awlaki’s death and debunking of his work by Islamic scholars and historians. Mark D. Wallace, the chief executive of the Counter Extremism Project, a group that has worked for some time to remove Awlaki’s videos from the internet stated, “it’s a watershed moment on the question of whether we’re going to allow the unchecked proliferation of cyberjihad. You just don’t want to make it easy for people to listen to a guy who wants to harm us.”
Wallace argued that just because many of Awlaki’s videos discussed Islamic history did not mean they should be allowed to remain on YouTube’s platform. “It’s an insult to Islam to say the teaching of the religion can’t stand the loss of a preacher who was also the leading propagandist of jihad in English,” said Wallace.
Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, the research director at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism commented on YouTube’s efforts to remove Awlaki from their platform saying, “I’ve seen a major drop-off of his work on YouTube. They deserve credit for that.” Meleagrou-Hitchens did, however, warn that those that wanted to find Awlaki’s teachings on the internet would still be able to do so.
“The fact is that if you really want Awlaki videos, you’ll find them,” he said. “But if he’s less available on YouTube, fewer people are coming across him who aren’t actually seeking him out.”
The removal of videos featuring Anwar al-Awlaki comes after a long string of incidents in which YouTube demonetized videos that seemingly went against the company’s politics. Prominent Trump supporters Diamond and Silk claimed to be demonetized by the streaming video giant, while YouTube was quick to remove a video parodying the platform itself.
Most recently, PragerU has sued YouTube over what they consider to be censorship of conservatives.
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