Content Moderation Case Study: Documenting Police Brutality (2007)

from the documenting-abuse-vs-promoting-abuse dept

Summary: Wael Abbas is an Egyption journalist/activist who began documenting protests in Egypt in 2006, including multiple examples of Egyptian police brutality, which he would then upload to YouTube.

In 2007, after posting a few explicit examples of Egyptian police brutality, he discovered that his entire YouTube account was shut down, taking down 181 videos covering not just police brutality, but also voting irregularities, and street protests. At first YouTube refused to comment on this, and only told Abbas that the account was shut down due to multiple complaints about the content.

Later, after the US press got ahold of the story, YouTube put out a statement saying:

Our general policy against graphic violence led to the removal of videos documenting alleged human rights abuses because the context was not apparent

Having reviewed the case, we have restored the account of Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas. And if he chooses to upload the video again with sufficient context so that users can understand his important message, we will of course leave it on the site

Wael believes that if large media organizations like Reuters and CNN hadn’t covered his case, that it was unlikely his account would have been restored, or that he would have been allowed to re-upload the videos.

Decisions to be made by YouTube:

  • How do you determine the difference between a journalist/activist documenting violence and an account that is “glorifying” violence?
  • Is there a way to determine the context of a video showing police brutality?
  • Should content moderation decisions change based on whether or not a specific situation is getting mainstream press attention?
  • Are there alternatives beyond shutting down an entire account based on complaints about some videos?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Should context play a bigger role in content moderation and if so, how can you take that into account? Or is it the responsibility of the account holder to supply the context?
  • How do you manage moderation of content from a country with different rules than in the US?
  • Will suspensions by US social media companies be used as evidence against the content creators in certain countries?
Resolution: As noted above, YouTube did reinstate his account, but as issues like this continued to arise, the company has adjusted its policies for handling violent but newsworthy content multiple times in the intervening years. At the time of writing this case study, Abbas’ videos showing Egyptian police brutality from many years ago now contain content warnings saying that the content “may be inappropriate for some viewers” and asking users to acknowledge that before being able to view the videos.

Abbas has faced many more content moderation challenges since then with his work in Egypt. Yahoo shut down his email account after getting complaints. Both Twitter and Facebook have suspended his accounts at times as well.

In both 2010 and 2018 Abbas was arrested in Egypt for his work, with Egyptian authorities using the social media account suspensions as evidence of his alleged crimes in “spreading fake news.”

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: content moderation, documenting, egypt, journalism, police brutality, reporting, wael abbas


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2020 @ 4:21pm

    I'm sure all those "complaints" were made in good faith.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    drumandbase (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 6:24am

    Old stuff

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 20 Nov 2020 @ 2:25pm

    >Wael believes that if large media organizations like Reuters and CNN hadn’t covered his case, that it was unlikely his account would have been restored, or that he would have been allowed to re-upload the videos.

    Wael knows that if large media organizations like Reuters and CNN hadn’t covered his case, that it was impossible his account would have been restored, or that he would have been allowed to re-upload the videos.

    FTFY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Northwest (profile), 20 Nov 2020 @ 10:41pm

    RE:

    Thanks for the update and quick reply. I'll be sure to keep an eye on this thread. Looking for the same issue. Bumped into your thread. Thanks for creating it. Looking forward for solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.