CIE’s Director explains why YouTube got it wrong when they pulled PMW’s channel

In this Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, CIE’s Director, Dr Andre Oboler, explains the deeper concerns that are raised by YouTube’s actions in pulling Palestinian Media Watch’s channel. The action shows a flawed policy that is dangerous to both the fight against online hate and to YouTube’s position in the market.

YouTube gets it wrong on online hate

ANDRE OBOLER, YouTube gets it wrong on online hate, Jerusalem Post, 19/12/2010

The closing of Palestinian Media Watch channel is one example of how the website’s policies are inconsistent and only selectively enforced.

Justice Louis Brandeis of the US Supreme Court once said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

This is often used to justify “more speech” as the only solution to “hate speech.”

In November, as parliamentarians and experts from over 40 countries gathered in Canada for the second meeting of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism, there was a growing concern at rising anti-Semitism, and an increased acceptance that more than sunlight was needed in response.

At the gathering, I presented as part of an experts panel on hate speech online. One point I raised was the problem of YouTube videos that do not by themselves constitute hate, but which attract hateful comments.

An example I gave was a YouTube clip of Sacha Baron Cohen’s song “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”

The most popular comment on the video the morning I presented, as voted by YouTube viewers, read: “Lets [sic] genocide them by burning them! But this time, lets [sic] actually do it.”

Should Sacha Baron Cohen or YouTube take this clip down if this is what it inspires? Should the comments be closed to viewers? The answer is unclear, but allowing this to continue is not a good thing and seeing how popular it is leaves me feeling very uncomfortable.

THERE IS also a clear problem with hate groups, such as “theytnazism” on YouTube.

I reported this to YouTube in February, and on November 22 – 10 months later – it was still active. The group includes a “list of people we hate and we want to kill.” It was a short list of “1. Blacks, 2. Jews, 3. Indians.”

I then included it in a set of slides for a conference on anti-Semitism run by the World Zionist Organisation in France earlier this month and suddenly the group was gone. I doubt that was a coincidence, especially as the rest of my collection of similar groups (reported at the same time) are still active. One of these, with giant swastikas in the background, declares it is God’s will to murder all non-Aryans.

The problem is not that YouTube never steps in. The problem is they are liable to step in only when there is public exposure of content they wrongly ignored, or when political pressure is applied.

YouTube also seems to have started giving in to pressure to remove videos and channels that expose and educate against hate.

A few months ago, for example, efforts were made to shut down the YouTube presence of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The institute provides the English-speaking world with insight into the Mideast media. Some of the exposure is not welcome by those who say one thing in English to a Western audience and another thing at home.

The MEMRI debacle seems to have been resolved, but YouTube is now going after Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) which fulfills a similar role, focused exclusively on the Palestinian media.

PMW monitors, translates and shares examples of incitement. It was PMW that exposed the use of a Mickey Mouse character inciting hate and violence on the Hamas TV children’s show “The Pioneers of Tomorrow.”

That story created shock waves around the world, leading to discussions in the Western mainstream media and at the UN of the link between incitement in the media and terrorism.

PMW’s violation appears to be that it was posting “hate material.”

There is no doubt that it was. However, like MEMRI, that material was not shared for the purpose of incitement, but to expose and counter the spread of hate. Some commentators have speculated that it is not the hate against Jews, Israelis and Americans – as shown in MEMRI and PMW videos – that is the problem, but rather the fact that the videos might cause a backlash against those promoting such hate.

Any argument that uses free speech to prevent the exposure of hate speech is inherently deeply flawed.

YouTube needs to get its act together.

What it has created is a haven for hate, devoid of sunlight. Its policy seems inconsistent, ineffective and only selectively enforced. It is working against community expectations and the public interest. Ignoring illegal content, while removing the very sunlight needed to expose those spreading hate, creates a volatile environment.

Social media is built on concepts of security and trust. When these start to go, opportunities for competitors are created. It may be too early to call this the beginning of the end for YouTube, but unless it gets its policies right, and properly enforces them, we may well see this megalith begin to slide downhill.

The writer is an expert in social media and online hate. He is director of the Community Internet Engagement Project and Co-Chair of the Online Anti-Semitism working group for the Global Forum to Combat Anti-Semitism.

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Gaming the YouTube system to protect antisemites

The following op-ed was written for Honest Reporting and provides an update and further details on the story of Palestinian Media Watch being banned by YouTube, as discussed in Jerusalem Post by CIE’s Director Dr Andre Oboler. It seems the YouTube reporting system is being played with by anti-Jewish activists, and the company is helpless to stop it. The post below originally appeared on Honest Reporting’s BackSpin Blog.

Palestinian Media Watch Still Gamed By YouTube

Dr Andre Oboler (http://www.oboler.com) is the Director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia. He is global expert in social media and internet based antisemitism. HonestReporting asked him to bring our readers up to speed on the developing YouTube / PMW revelations.

On Sunday, YouTube acted to close a channel on their service run by Palestinian Media Watch. The explanation YouTube gave related to a video from 2006, originally taken from Hamas’s website, which shows a suicide terrorist says his goodbyes and boasting he will soon drink the blood of Jews.

“We won’t leave you alone until we have quenched our thirst with your blood, and our children’s thirst with your blood.” He says. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSftYIGH6-w)

After this video has been on the YouTube at this address since July, suddenly this exposure of terrorism and hate was a “violation of terms” and was promoting hate speech rather than exposing it. Instead of removing the video, as they had done before (without allowing an avenue for appeal or discussion), YouTube removed the entire channel. This seems to be based on a policy of banning accounts after 5 strikes against the Terms of Use. The mistakes, on YouTube’s part, build up until the account is disabled.

A day later, after coverage by myself in Jerusalem Post, and by Melanie Phillips in the Spectator, as well as an increasing volume of outrage on blogs and via Twitter, the PMW channel was reinstated, but the viewing counts seem conspicuously low.

The most viewed video was only up to 13,363 views. This was particularly odd when there are Palestinian Media Watch videos like “Gaza flotilla participants invoked killing of Jews” with over 200,000 views. It seems searching for “by palwatch” (no quotes) gives far better results than viewing the channel. In short the channel is now broken as a result of YouTube’s intervention.

The good news is that of the six complaints again Palestinian Media Watch, four of them have now been reversed. You can now, once again, see “Hamas suicide terrorist farewell video: Palestinians drink the blood of Jews,” “PA cleric: Kill Jews, Allah will make Muslims masters over Jews,” and “Hamas suicide farewell video: Jews monkeys and pigs; Maidens reward for killing Jews.”

Three videos remain blocked. “Farewell video before suicide attack of Hamas suicide bomber Adham Ahmad Hujyla Abu Jandal” (formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYdTudQhWM4), “Hamas TV teaches kids to kill Jews” formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwN2M6ZIIRU), and “Jews are a virus like Aids” (formerly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYaGl3KjPUw).

YouTube still needs to fix the indexing problem, and review their earlier mistakes. It seems only the most recent complaints have been reviewed and found to be invalid. The good news is that it seems this is a systematic flaw in Google’s system, not something they intended to do. But the problem is occurring with other pro-Israel accounts.

It seems someone, or some group of new media anti-Israel activists, are gaming the system. They are taking advantage of YouTube’s automated and semi-automated systems to push their agenda slowly through the system. First one complaint, then a second… until eventually the goal is achieved and the channel itself is shut down. Until YouTube can improve the system, and recognise when people are trying to “trick” the system into doing what they want, rather than what it is intended to do, we all have a serious problem. This isn’t helped when YouTube’s manual override is broken and leaves those who have been targeted in a worse position then they were to start with.

For now, YouTube need to find the accounts that are causing these problems and deactivate them. This problem is far greater than Palestinian Media Watch, though the damage done to them must be fixed, and an apology wouldn’t hurt either.

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YouTube reinstates Palestinian Media Watch channel

Ron Friedman, Jerusalem Post, 20 December 2010

The video sharing website originally removed the PMW video channel for violating its community guidelines.

Following a report in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, video-sharing website YouTube reinstated Palestinian Media Watch’s channel on Monday.

YouTube had removed the channel, which exposes anti- Israel incitement broadcast on Arab media, for violating its community guidelines on hate speech. PMW director Itamar Marcus claims Palestinian Authority officials were behind the move.

“I am convinced that this was an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to remove the videos and close us down. It’s part of a pattern. Everywhere we go, they constantly come at us,” said Marcus.

Marcus said that the Palestinians wanted to shut down PMW because it provided the world with proof of Palestinian incitement against Israel.

The videos that were removed all showed examples of hate speech propagated against Israelis and Jews, material that, according to Marcus, the Palestinians preferred to keep hidden from wide viewing.

“They can’t attack what we say because the material speaks for itself, so they try to delegitimize us and take advantage of YouTube’s automated system to remove our material from the Internet,” said Marcus.

Marcus said that he was glad that the videos were back up, but said that there were still problems in the system.

He said that searching for the videos individually was now more difficult because the automatically generated ranking system had been altered and videos that had been viewed hundreds of thousands of times were not given the high ranking they should have merited.

Marcus said he hoped it was only a technical glitch and that it would be remedied in the upcoming days.

“It seems someone, or some group of new media anti-Israel activists, is gaming the system,” said Dr. Andre Oboler, the director of the Community Internet Engagement Project at the Zionist Federation of Australia, in an interview with Honestreporting.com.

“They are taking advantage of YouTube’s automated and semi-automated systems to push their agenda slowly through the system. First one complaint, then a second…

until eventually the goal is achieved and the channel itself is shut down,” Oboler said. “Until YouTube can improve the system, and recognize when people are trying to ‘trick’ the system into doing what they want, rather than what it is intended to do, we all have a serious problem.”

Oboler added, “For now, YouTube needs to find the accounts that are causing these problems and deactivate them.

This problem is far greater than Palestinian Media Watch, though the damage done to them must be fixed, and an apology wouldn’t hurt either.”

Marcus said he had never heard from YouTube representatives, either before or after the videos were reinstated.

The Post’s request for an explanation also had yet to be answered.

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Government Crack Down on peace, goodwill and social media

Social media platforms, like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have made everyone a publisher. With nothing more than a smart phone, people are able to share news, photographs and video. This new level of freedom of communication has been causing concerns for those who wish to control the media, the message and the mob. Orwell’s Big Brother is none too happy.

Today’s totalitarian state is not the fictional Oceania, but rather places we already have on the radar over concerned with democracy, human rights and human dignity.  Twitter made headlines in June last year when the US State Department asked the company to delay a scheduled down time. The delay was requested in the name of democracy to prevent interference with the organising ability of Iranians protesting against elections widely held to be corrupt.

In the lead up to those elections, Iranian authorities banned Facebook, then reinstated it after Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a former vice president of Iran, noted that, “Facebook is one of the only independent sources that the Iranian youth could use to communicate”. He said without it, people would be “forced to rely on government sources”. Perhaps the Iranian regime felt exposed by such comments?

Skip forward 15 months and Iran has a new strategy. Shown on Iranian TV (now on YouTube with subtitles) is a news bulletin explaining why Facebook and Twitter are evil. Complete with spooky music, the clip informs views that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is a Jew but doesn’t believe in God. If that didn’t convince you Facebook was evil, it goes on to say Facebook was created to source operatives for western intelligence organisations. To prove this it cuts to a silhouette of a man described as a Facebook user. Our mystery man says he has worked for Facebook for 18 months, and for spy agencies. He claims to reads information on Facebook and then sell it to these spy agencies.  He claims to be doing it for the great money involved.

Soon we have another silhouette. This one claims twitter asked him to share his conversations with them so the data might be used by intelligence agencies. The section ends with a warning that social media sites are the hidden enemy. Next we have a claim that “Facebook is an Israeli spying website“. This is supported by a mocked up front page of the Independent Newspaper. The clip ends with claims of propaganda, psychological warfare and an anti-Iranian network that includes social media and the BBC and aims to change the Iranian people’s culture and faith. This “subtle” attack aims to deter use of a medium of self expression the regime is finding impossible to control.

Iran is not alone. Recently Indonesia, home to the largest Muslim population in the world, joined the attack on social media. The trouble this time is a Facebook page seeking to create warmer relations between Israel and Indonesia. The page bills itself as a virtual embassy of Israel to Indonesia. It says it is for people who are friends of both countries, and so far there are over 56 thousand fans, most of them in Indonesia. The page expresses a wish that real embassies can soon be built and diplomatic relations established. Not if the Indonesian government gets its way.

Al Muzammil Yusuf, a member of the Indonesian parliament’s Commission on Defense, foreign affairs and information, said the Ministry of Communications and Information would take action over the page under its oversight authority for the use of technology. He also called for an investigation to find who initiated the page. It’s starting to sound just a little like the Iranian regime’s witch hunt which led to imprisonments, injuries and killings.

Indonesia is listed amongst the free nations of the world by the highly respected NGO Freedom House.  Such a move against good will, cooperation, and self expression by Indonesia would be shocking given their freedom status is the same as that of Australia or Canada. Then again, in Australia or Canada it’s unlikely the Communication and Information Minister would be causing a stir by using twitter to share Adolf Hitler quotes. That’s this week’s other Indonesian technology story.

Social media, if properly managed, poses a real threat to those working against peace, truth and good will amongst peoples. The management however needs to be based on ethical principles. Governments do have rights in this process and international laws, standards and policies should be considered. Companies like Facebook need to establish relations with governments outside the USA, learn from the experience of others, and chart a course that is good not only for their bottom line but for humanity. With social media comes social responsibility, both for users and for platform owners.

Dr Andre Oboler is social media expert. He is based in Australia and runs the Community Internet Engagement Project.

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Youtube want to remove this video!

This hoax takes the form of an e-mail claiming readers must visit a specific YouTube video and send forward the e-mail telling them to do this to all their contacts.

The e-mails typically claim “YouTube wants to remove this video by using the excuse that not too many people are logging in”. There are a number of videos to which this hoax is attached.

What this hoax aims to achieve

The goal in this case may be legitimate, however the approach is problematic. Those initiating the e-mail want to increase the viewership of a video with an important message. This not only means more people see the message, but by increasing the viewership they make it more popular in YouTube, eventually perhaps getting it to the front page or to the top of various search results.

The problem is that YouTube does not remove videos due to “lack of views” or because “not enough people are logging in”. This misinformation about the way YouTube works is dangerous as it detracts from legitimate messages. If people are simply asked to help promote the video, the same goal can be achieved without the false panic.

What to do about it

Do not forward this hoax on to others. Reply to the person who sent it to you and direct them to this page.

In general check out our hoax archive or simply google a key phrase from the suspect e-mail. If it is a hoax, chances are someone will have written about it.


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