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by Mike Masnick


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Dumb Question Of The Day: Should Google Try To Prevent Terrorism?

from the well,-of-course dept

I have to admit, I was pretty dumbfounded when I saw the title of this recent Wired blog post:
Should Google Try to Prevent Terrorism?
I mean, who's going to say no to that? Of course Google should try to prevent terrorism. Everyone should try to prevent terrorism if they can. So I was curious what the article was actually about if it would even bring that up... And it's not about Google preventing terrorism at all. It's about the misguided notion that Google should block any videos from those claiming to be part of terrorist groups, which is a totally different thing:
Jihadists have flocked to YouTube to spread their propaganda. One of those clips, released last week, appeared to take credit for the Times Square bombing attempt -- before Faisal Shahzad tried to ignite his SUV. The video may have been a vital clue for investigators. But does YouTube and its corporate parent, Google, have an obligation to block these videos before they're seen?

That's what one long-time monitor of online jihadists is arguing. "If a certain percentage of Islamist sympathizers are radicalized, in part, online, then it stands to reason that more eyeballs that are exposed to violent Islamist propaganda would eventually translate into more would-be terrorists," writes "Rusty Shackleford," the pseudonymous patron of The Jawa Report. "Which is why even though YouTube has been a boon in helping law enforcement agents detect, post hoc, would-be terrorists it has been a bane in that far more Muslims today can easily access violent Islamist propaganda."
Of course, this isn't even a new issue. Two years ago, Senator Joe Lieberman grandstanded on the issue, and eventually got YouTube/Google to agree to ban such videos if they "advertise" terrorism or "extremist causes."

The whole thing seemed ridiculous at the time. As the guy above even admits, these videos are helpful to law enforcement. The idea that people are becoming radicalized because they watch a YouTube video seems pretty unlikely in most cases anyway. These videos are preaching to the choir, not converting kids. Besides, blocking these videos only gives the folks behind them more of a martyr feeling about how people are trying to hold them down and don't want to hear what they're saying. The idea that blocking these videos is "preventing terrorism" seems quite unlikely. But using the videos to actually monitor terrorists and help law enforcement seems like a much more important and useful task.

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  1. identicon
    Ryan, 10 May 2010 @ 12:29pm

    The idea that people are becoming radicalized because they watch a YouTube video seems pretty unlikely in most cases anyway. These videos are preaching to the choir, not converting kids. Besides, blocking these videos only gives the folks behind them more of a martyr feeling about how people are trying to hold them down and don't want to hear what they're saying. The idea that blocking these videos is "preventing terrorism" seems quite unlikely.

    I presume this is pure speculation that you just pulled out of your ass? I'm inclined to believe you're right, but that's a piss-poor way of determining policy.

    More significantly...so what if the videos do aid certain aspects of terrorism? YouTube is a tool that can be utilized for any number of purposes, good or bad, including terrorism. Why is it on Google or anyone else to define terrorist activity (one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter - should Google have relentlessly pulled down the videos of protesters in Iran?), to monitor for expressions of that activity (what expressions are worthy of being pulled? can a philosophical discussion about the merits of various quasi-terrorist acts be construed as potentially convincing stupid people to join Al Qaeda, and thus promoting terrorism?), and then to act as enforcers by removing them? That's censorship and really no different than Apple arbitrarily rejecting apps from the store. If Google wants to do that, fine. But it shouldn't be expected of them, just as it's not on Apple to keep all possible offensive content out of a user's iPhone experience.

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