Bowing to Pressure, YouTube Takes Down Jihadi Videos

YouTube (s GOOG) has taken down a series of videos that include calls to jihad by Yemeni-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, after receiving pressure from U.S. and U.K. officials. The removal of the videos falls under YouTube’s terms of service, which prohibit “dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts,” a spokesperson told the NY Times.

Representatives from the American and British governments have been pushing YouTube to remove the videos after Awlaki was cited in a series of violent acts. In the U.K., Roshonara Choudhry, who recently stabbed a British MP “to get revenge for the people of Iraq,” told police that she had viewed Awlaki videos on the Internet. Last week, British security minister Pauline Neville-Jones visited the U.S. and met with White House counterterrorism officials to discuss the need to have videos by Awlaki and other extremists taken down. And Awlaki’s group has been linked to bombs hidden in cargo planes that were found traveling from Yemen to Chicago last week.

YouTube is trying to strike a careful balance between giving its users freedom of expression while also prohibiting hate speech and calls to violence. While a number of videos have been taken down, including several of Awlaki’s “44 Ways to Support Jihad” speech, there are still more than 5,000 videos of him on YouTube.

A YouTube spokesperson told the NY Times, “These are difficult issues… and material that is brought to our attention is reviewed carefully. We will continue to remove all content that incites violence according to our policies. Material of a purely religious nature will remain on the site.”

That said, it’s difficult to put too much blame on YouTube for hosting the videos, or to expect much from those videos being taken down on the one site, especially since they are freely available elsewhere on the Internet. Terrorist wannabes looking for Awlaki’s sermons are now only “mildly inconvenienced,” as Wired puts it.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: (subscription required)