May 19, 2008 -- A U.S. senator says Google needs to do more to remove videos -- produced by Islamist terrorists -- from YouTube.
Monday, in a letter to Google chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said, "A great majority of these videos document horrific attacks on American soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan."
Other videos, Lieberman said, "provide weapons training, speeches by al-Qaeda leadership, and general material intended to radicalize potential recruits."
Lieberman asks Google to apply its own community guidelines, which forbid graphic or gratuitous violence, and videos that show, "someone getting hurt, attacked, or humiliated."
In response to the letter, 80 videos were removed from YouTube by Google. But while Lieberman considers this a good start, he says it is not enough.
In a statement released Tuesday, Lieberman said, "Google continues to allow the posting of videos by organizations the State Department has designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. No matter what their content, videos produced by terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, that are committed to attacking America and killing Americans, should not be tolerated. Google must reconsider its policy."
Hundreds of thousands of videos are uploaded to YouTube each day and because of the enormous volume of content, YouTube says it is impossible to pre-screen each video before it is posted on the site. YouTube largely depends on users to enforce its community standards.
According to terrorism analyst Ben Venzke, removing terrorist videos from YouTube would have little effect.
"The core underlying issue is that, whether you take the videos off of YouTube or not, they will always be available at numerous other locations online," Venzke told ABC News.
"New outlets are popping up constantly, and when you take one down, 10 more simply appear to fill the gap. The problem is the very nature of the Internet itself. It makes controlling and denying access to information simply impossible," Venzke added.
Case in point: Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee, which Lieberman chairs, issued a staff report entitled, "Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and Home Grown Terrorist Threat."
At a press conference on May 8, Lieberman played a video compilation that included beheadings and bomb and rocket attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Many terrorist videos are branded with logos and icons identifying the source of the videos. Lieberman suggests this branding by Islamist groups could be used to identify videos that should be removed from YouTube.
Venzke, who runs the IntelCenter, a counterterrorism contractor that works with military, intelligence and law enforcement clients, says that could have some unintended consequences.
"If automated means were used to identify material, would a news report or documentary containing the same material, but produced by a reputable news outlet, also be blocked or removed simply because the logo appeared?" Venzke asked.
In response to Lieberman's concerns, YouTube, which was acquired by Google in 2006, "examined and ended up removing a number of videos from the site, primarily because they depicted gratuitous violence, advocated violence, or used hate speech," according to a blog posted by YouTube.com.
However, the blog, entitled "Dialogue with Sen. Lieberman on terrorism videos," added that, "Most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines."
YouTube took issue with what it sees as Lieberman's call to remove all videos mentioning or featuring terrorist groups -- even legal non-violent or non-hate speech videos.
"While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view," the blog said.
Lieberman responded in his statement that, "Videos produced by al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates showing attacks on American troops remain on YouTube's website and violate YouTube's own community guidelines. Those videos should be taken down immediately."