On Wednesday, YouTube scrubbed a number of videos by the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki from its site. Al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and is now thought to be hiding in Yemen, has spent years agitating for Islamic terrorism, making extensive use of online platforms like YouTube and Facebook to do so. His teachings have been linked to everything from 9/11 to the Times Square bombing attempt, and in April, he became the first American citizen to be targeted for death by the CIA. YouTube's decision to pull some, but not all, of al-Awlaki's videos has met with approval, skepticism, and puzzlement from different quarters.
- What Was Taken Down The New York Times quotes Victoria Grand, a spokeswoman for YouTube, who said that the site's policies forbid videos that encourage "dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb-making, hate speech, and incitement to commit violent acts," as well as anything uploaded "by a member of a designated foreign terrorist organization." Acknowledging the question of censorship, Grand added that "these are difficult issues... 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."
- Al-Awlaki Is a Danger, writes Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. "He needs only to convince a few gullible people of his call to religious jihad to trigger a terrorist act thousands of miles away," writes Johnston. "One of his remote adherents was Roshonara Choudhry, who stabbed Stephen Timms, the Labour MP and former minister, in 'revenge' for the invasion of Iraq ... How many more are there sitting in their bedrooms watching and listening to the poisonous creed of people like al-Awlaki?"
- Will This Actually Make a Difference? wonders Adam Rawnsley at Wired. "Even if YouTube could effectively remove jihadi material from its site, its absence is unlikely to make a dent in the radicalization of potential terrorists," writes Rawnsley, "because of the wide variety of different hosting options and multiple legal regimes governing them. Other online video sites still host extremist videos. The Taliban has an official YouTube channel ... YouTube stepping up enforcement of its policies against extremist content isn't a bad thing. But policymakers in the United States and Britain should be clear about what this will achieve and what it won't."
- What Kind of Precedent Does This Set? asks Gawker's Ryan Tate. "It's worth asking why the company finally caved to critics," writes Tate. "Imam Anwar al-Awlaki has been controversial for some time now, after all ... It's unclear what precipitated the change, aside from growing pressure; last week, both Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner and Britain's minister for security called for the videos to come down." Tate concludes that this is "only going to open up Google to more arm twisting in the future, whatever you think of this specific case."