YouTube has decided to eliminate most of the videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, the most influential English-speaking Islamist preacher. Killed by the Americans in 2011 in Yemen, his extremist preaching has long been visible on the platform.
YouTube has just tackled one of the most effective online recruiting weapons of the jihadist movements: the English videos of the American preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in 2011 by the United States in Yemen. Google’s video platform has censored most of its videos, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Only 19,000 survive, compared to almost 80,000 in April 2017. Most of the content that survived the purge is critical reporting on the preacher or rebuttals. of his extremist theses by other voices of the Muslim world. Previously, his sermons appeared in the first occurrences when a user searched for his name on YouTube. Some of his most violent diatribes, in which he praised the memory of suicide bombers or called to kill “infidels”, had escaped the vigilance of YouTube for more than eight years.
YouTube officials told the New York Times that in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the videos were first evaluated by humans. Then, when content was manually removed from the site, an algorithm came into play to ensure that the same video could not be put back online without being automatically censored.
It was time. Some associations, such as the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) , have been campaigning for nearly ten years for the Internet giant to show the same firmness towards Anwar al-Awlaki’s videos as it does for those who infringe on intellectual property.
The preaching of the “Islamist Youtube” and charismatic figure of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqpa) have helped to radicalize several terrorists in the United States, said the CEP. Omar Mateen, the author of the shooting that killed 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, acknowledged before FBI that he drew inspiration from Anwar al-Awlaki’s videos. Djokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon terrorists (2013), even tweeted that he used to listen to the preacher’s sermons.
The death in 2011 of the one who will become the first American killed by a drone attack on the order of Washington, has not stopped the breaking of his videos on YouTube. On the contrary: his “disciples” flooded the platform with content to the glory of the one they quickly presented as a martyr of jihad. Even his most innocuous speeches, such as a series devoted to the life of the Prophet Muhammad, were accompanied by violent comments extolling his extremist message.
Pressure from the authorities
YouTube has long resisted requests to completely ban Anwar al-Awlaki from its platform. His videos, often on the verge of incitement to hatred or support for terrorism, were in a gray zone under YouTube’s rules of conduct. By 2010 however, the site had declared war on the most extremist content of the preacher. But this YouTube censorship was far from systematic, much to the chagrin of associations fighting online jihadist propaganda.
The platform’s fall cleanup owes a lot to the growing pressure the Net majors are receiving from the authorities, the New York Times believes. Criticized for leaving too much leeway to hate speech, these sites have multiplied initiatives to show their goodwill.
YouTube has been particularly in the spotlight in recent months. In March 2017, several major brands (including Verizon and Walmart) had even canceled their advertising campaigns after discovering that they might end up clutching hate or jihadist videos.
But YouTube’s censorship does not remove the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki from the Net. It simply deprives it of its main source of propagation. “Those who want to find his propaganda will not face too many difficulties,” said Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, research director at the University of Washington, specializing in extremism.