June 19th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

The "whack-a-mole" strategy of pulling terrorist videos offline

By Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

From the new head of al Qaeda core, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to terror propagandist Ayman al-Awlaki, using the Internet to spread the jihadist message is a tool of the trade for terrorists.

In the last six months of 2011, Google agreed to remove some 640 terrorist videos from YouTube at the request of law enforcement officials in the United Kingdom, because the videos violated the company's guidelines. The disclosure was contained in Google's biannual Transparency Report, which provides data on government requests from throughout the world to remove content from Google's YouTube and search websites.

Aaron Zelin, who started monitoring jihadist websites in 2002 in Washington, has seen a myriad of propaganda and do-it-yourself terror tricks posted in the form of videos. 

The problem with trying to take some of the more egregious material off the Internet, said Zelin, is that it has a way of popping right back up again. 

"In a sense, [it's] a whack-a-mole type of thing where especially activists in the West create 20 or 30 YouTube accounts, and they primarily use one and then if somebody flags, it they just take it down and go to the next one. So it's sort of this cat-and-mouse game that you're playing," said Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism expert at the New America Foundation, agreed. "The Internet is fundamentally an open platform. If videos are taken down, they will get re-uploaded."

Google, a parent company to YouTube, has a policy for dealing with terrorist content online. 

According to a Google spokesperson, "Community Guidelines prohibit dangerous or illegal activities such as bomb making, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts."  The spokesperson talked with CNN on the condition that no name was used because the person is not authorized to speak on the record about how such material is handled.

With hundreds of videos being posted by some jihadi groups, getting a handle on all of the terrorist information that's out there can be a challenge. Google has its own defense: a built-in flagging mechanism that alerts Google moderators to take a closer look.  Any YouTube subscriber, whether an individual or a government official, can select the flag button located below every video on the site. 

The Google spokesperson said the flags are taken seriously and that they are constantly monitored.

"Our review teams respond to flagged videos around the clock, routinely removing material under those guidelines when content is flagged by users or other external groups," the Google spokesperson said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, credited Google for being responsive to concerns about what he called violent Islamist extremism online.

"These videos have played a role in the indoctrination, training, and radicalization of violent Islamist extremists, whose warped ideology advocates the killing of innocent people," Lieberman said in a statement.

But some experts say there can be hidden benefits to keeping some of this material online.

Fishman said the videos are a source of information that is important to intelligence agencies worldwide.

"One of the values of these videos being out there, we can sort of understand what our enemies are thinking about or what these kinds of folks are thinking about,"  Fishman said.

According to Google, the U.S. government made 1,759 requests for content to be removed from YouTube from July to December of last year.  Of those requests, only one removal was in the name of national security but no details were provided on the nature of the request.

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  61. Will

    Very simple fix. If videos get uploaded that are against policy, just block the IP address from where they came. and then report to the government where those IP adresses are so that they can be carpet bombed.

    June 19, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply
    • cw

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      June 19, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
    • Canseco

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      June 19, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
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    Maybe if the CIA and NSA were a bit smarter, they would make videos just like the ones the terrorists post, but with mistakes and incorrect data, leading to these morons who follow these videos to commit these errors and blow themselves up while bomb making or setting themselves up for capture and punishment.

    June 19, 2012 at 10:01 am | Reply
    • cw

      Who's to say they don't?

      June 19, 2012 at 10:06 am | Reply
      • George Washington

        I hope they are, but I doubt it....

        June 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  63. TiredOfPaying

    "If videos are taken down, they will get re-uploaded." Really? I've been trying to find 'Imagine There's No Kenny' which was a nice parody of the destruction of an arrogant corporation 'Band of Brothers' in the game Eve-Online. The only link found goes to YouTube where 'this person's account had been disabled.'

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    June 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Reply
  64. Recondo 101

    Ask any Spl Ops trooper from any country in the world and they will tell you that Google is the number 1 friend to Terrorists on the web, from Google Earth showing any and all installations in detail, to killi videos, to murder your neighbor propaganda. Google is way beyond the pale in assisting terrorists.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
    • robert

      Google is a tool, nothing more. And like most tools, it can be used for good or bad. At least Google has in place ways to reduce this content.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • Cedar Rapids

      oh less of the hyperbole already

      June 19, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply
    • asdf

      No you're wrong. They do not show detail of everything on google earth. Look at military installations. If they're meant to be secret, they are blurred out or won't let you see at all. Do some research before spewing your stupid sh!t all over the place.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  65. Kevin

    There is a very simple solution to prevent reposting videos. Simply fingerprint the video and then check every upload against known "bad" videos. Easy as pie to do, and would completely prevent reposting, without at least modifying the content. IT would even be possible to use a more advanced algorithm to detect videos with a specific segment, meaning editing would not be enough

    June 19, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
    • robert

      Such heuristic scanning tech is definitely in the works. But I agree that YouTube could at least generate an MD5 hash of uploaded content and refuse anything that was previously removed.

      June 19, 2012 at 10:01 am | Reply
      • Kevin

        A simple CRC fingerprint is childsplay and would catch the majority of attempts to upload the same file

        June 19, 2012 at 10:52 am |
      • Jason

        My wife and I had the great privilege of visniitg the The Temple Bar on Sunday 12th and were absolutely gob smacked at the incredible performances of Dave and his many supporting musicians and singers.This was an incredible achievement and well worthy of breaking the Guiness World Record.Thanks for the memory.Allan & Pauline PritchardOakdale, Caerphilly, South Walestalent

        August 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  66. Chuck

    Its about time

    June 19, 2012 at 9:29 am | Reply
    • sez

      These guys the United States business community funds and can never catch. Are a really good excuse to show why anyone that isn't in the loop. Dosen't get their material on youtube unless they are approved. It also really justifies the reason all search engines are catalouged along with youtube. So you can't get any relevant information. All the other nations websites are cached and you get the same information over and over just like the cached google and youtube pages. This country isn't free. Its time you realize that.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:37 am | Reply
  67. dutspup

    Its best to keep everyone in a bubble. Remove the supposed "terror" threats from our free sites but let Hollywood make movies and have you pasy for them too. The Jews love playing these mind games.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • mark

      America does not own the internet, no matter how much we think we do. The internet is owned by no single country or corperation.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
      • robert

        Well, technically, that may be true but so what? What's yer point??

        The US created the internet and most of the important infrastructure and innovation are still created and maintained by US-based companies. The US bears a huge responsibility in the care and feeding of the internet. Everyone else is pretty much just along for the ride.

        Other important US inventions include aviation, GPS, and the list goes on and on.... Not bad for such young country.

        June 19, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  68. Tony Rodolakis

    I say that we use the information that we have from these YouTube videos of terrorists and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law based upon their malintent, which is absolutely no secret at all. Amen.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
    • mark

      Since the Internet is world-wide and each country doesn't have the same laws, its hard to simply say prosecute them. With who's laws? And not all countries feel they are terrorists, only the US and US allied countries do.

      One of the biggest things to remember is that the Revolutionary War was fought by terrorist, our fore fathers. They were terrorist in Great Britian's eyes. Yet they are heros in ours. Keep that in mind. Best way to fight terrorists is not get involved in their business.

      All Terrorist always fight for a reason. Take away the reason to fight, and they will always quit fighting. That is the only way you can truly beat Terrorism. So why do our current Terrorist of the US want to fight us? If we figure the truth out on this, we can stop it.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
      • Stephen

        Our fore fathers used IEDs as roadside bombs and targeted the caravans of british troops as their wagons drove by. Sound familiar?

        June 19, 2012 at 9:38 am |
      • Tim

        The Revolutionary War was not an act of terrorism. Terrorism is the deliberate attack upon innocent civilians (i.e. not politicians or soldiers). Our fore fathers targeted the British soldiers and associates of the Crown. Therefore, what you stated is false. Playing the counterterrorism game is not so black and white. One needs to understand the culture, religion, and political motivation behind the act of terrorism. Terrorism is a method not a political ideology. Our fore fathers did not purposely target innocent civilians at a market and execute the innocent civilians to pressure Parliament and King George III to give Americans independence.

        June 19, 2012 at 9:54 am |
      • US Dollars

        Yes Mark,

        They want you and the whole world to be Muslims. Let me know when you start your conversion process to appease them. Thanks.

        June 19, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  69. azezel

    What kind of society is it we are living in when we are not allowed to know what the opposition's narrative is?

    June 19, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
    • mark

      Agreed. In addition we could learn something about their methods should we need to fight them. I do not condone fighting, but it is required in order to keep our freedoms. Besides, maybe they are right. Maybe they have a very valid point, just like Rosa Parks did in 1960s about segregation. You should keep an open mind, even when they do not.

      Besides, even God says not to judge others as that is his right and his alone.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:18 am | Reply
    • Denverboy

      Well that would be a closed society....a fearful society ...a society that looks upon it'd own population with distain and mistrust....That would be America..Land Of The Free...Home Of The Brave

      June 19, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
  70. Mhopper

    There's this little thing called an IP address. So, you're whack-a-mole strategy is kind of inane. There's only one reason why some would have 20 to 30 youtube accounts. You should do something about that.
    Terrorist chatter is not free speech. Don't even go there.

    June 19, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
    • mark

      IP Addresses can be spoofed (i.e. faked). Your idea of using them to limit content is a little misguided. Most computers use DHCP which dynamically allocates an IP address. So you would recommend they band all IPs of a internet host? This would be great for the terrorists who could shutdown utube by simply spoofing their ips for every ip set in the world and make posting to utube to ban them. Very flawed thinking.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:11 am | Reply
      • Court

        It would be a disaster if Youtube banned .gov IP's because of CIA shenanigans...and pretty god damn funny and deserved. NO consent....NONE

        June 19, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  71. coaster

    Since Youtube is a Google site, they have a right to employ whatever censorship they wish and Google's policy appears to be well thought out. That being said, censorship can be a slippery slope and can be used to censor legitimate dissent. In a truly free society one's speech is protected, even when we disagree with the message. In addition, when you censor someone you can in some ways empower them, as the act of censorship can convince those censored and some sympathizers of the legitimacy of their message.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
    • mark

      As always, people are always focused on the selfish aspect of true freedom. True Freedom requires everyone to be accountable for their actions and that their choices should not impeed the freedoms of others or influence others. Expressing your opinion about something is fine as long as it doesn't affect others. This is the part everyone forgets about freedom.

      In your society of non-responsible speech rights, you can say there is a "bomb" on an airplane full of people when on that airplane, and delay the plane without penalty.

      I do not condone censorship, rather I recommend that litegation be put against those that choose actions that negatively affect others. Post it if you want, but you will pay a price for posting it and continue to pay a price as long as it is posted. If you wish to pay that price, then the post can stand.

      June 19, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
      • Bailey

        Your lack of understanding surrounding free speech and how it works frightens me a great deal.

        June 19, 2012 at 9:46 am |
      • Solitairedog

        You said the expressing your opinion is fine as long as it doesn't influence others. Are you listening to yourself?

        June 19, 2012 at 10:18 am |
      • Solitairedog

        OMG and then you went on to say that posting things that "negatively affect others" would be prosecuted unless the poster could pay enough money, then the post could stay up. You are not thinking at all! For goodness sake, stay out of politics.

        June 19, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  72. Cheryl

    Why did it take the FBI to make YouTube enforce its own policies? Any sensible organization would have pulled those travesties long ago. Sad times when people and groups can't set reasonable limits themselves. Typical.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • Joseph

      Cheryl, it would be poor pr for Google to start self-selecting their censorship. It is best to wait for the government to enact their requests backed by their laws so Google appears to be acting lawful without alienation.

      June 19, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
      • jj

        Poor PR to follow your own policies? If that's the reasoning, it's very flawed.

        June 19, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  73. TheTraveler

    Another "panties in a wad" moment for the general public ... The solution will spark more controversy than the problem, giving the "offenders" more publicity than the actual videos in question ever would ...

    June 19, 2012 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • PantyRaid



      YES ! !

      June 19, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
      • Solitairedog

        Perhaps risking a little bad PR is better than risking the bomb that results from the poster's instructions.

        June 19, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  74. Joseph

    Just remember when uploading your video of someone being be-headed to abide by Google's music copyright laws.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
  75. azezel

    folks should really watch the definition of terrorist closely. We don't live in a free and open society any more. It is just a fact of life. Now can I have a 20% raise so I can go back to slurping my corn syrup because we gotta burn all the sugar made with slave labor to keep the base industries going after the oil runs dry...

    June 19, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
    • Joseph

      Don't forget to take your meds.

      June 19, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
    • PantyRaid

      Hey do you have any mad cow you want to trade?

      June 19, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • Kahlde

      Posted on nice anyone atdnteing the Baltimore con this weekend, these are the ideal item to print out and leave randomly on tables, chairs, bits of empty floor, etc

      July 31, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  76. AKIL

    There are coded messages in the Internet the only Muslim or Arab followers can decipher. A perspon should have to speak and write in Arab or other arab dialects to het the message.

    A muslim boy in New Jersey told ABC reporters that he read an article in the internet stating that 2 tall buildings will disappear on 9/11.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:20 am | Reply
    • Solitairedog

      ...and you believe everything you're told by little muslim boys, right?

      June 19, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
  77. dippy dimpple dipp

    Where the videos taken offline or just banned from the US network? Obviously lawenforcement would still have access.

    June 19, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  78. nelly54

    Unbelievable, these terriosts groups are using American hardware to promote violence against Americans

    June 19, 2012 at 7:57 am | Reply
    • Raven

      Actually no, most computers these days are made in Communist China.
      And Google has server farms over seas also.
      What was most interesting was the statement that these terrorists are from the "West".

      And the part about leaving some material up. What they didn't say was so the government agencies could track who was visiting those videos.

      June 19, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  79. Never Debate

    Please censor and remove my previous comment. I dare you.

    June 19, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  80. Steve

    You tube is very strange, if i post a video of a hockey team scoring a goal i have to remove it because of copyright. But a video showing violence and horrible things can stay up.

    June 19, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
    • Never Debate

      Yes, that is the way it should be. America and the west are hypocrites.

      June 19, 2012 at 7:42 am | Reply
      • Raven

        Whats hypocritical about that. The rules are plainly posted.no copyrighted material.

        June 19, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • captamurca

      Steve's saying that also in the rules is "no violence, hate speech," etc. yet they rely on flaggings to remove this while on their own volition they'll remove copyrighted material. Corporate rights are more important than human rights, remember?

      June 19, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
      • Lars

        Someone should copyright acts of terrorism, be-heading, and the rest so Google will take everything down. But you know the trick, don't you? Just put "no copyright infringement intended" in the description and it stays.

        June 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  81. Never Debate

    Who gives a shi t?

    June 19, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  82. Rational Libertarian

    All censorship must be opposed.

    June 19, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
  83. Concerned

    Take down videos, and send to officials for review.

    June 19, 2012 at 7:34 am | Reply
  84. ObamaUnitl2016

    Why shouldnt YouTube do this? FoxNews did it when the hate filled and vile rhetoric of the radical right became too much for even Fox (which you know is extreme!). They pulled all of their commenting because it seems that their FanBase (far from fair and balanced) would spew hate speech regularly.

    June 19, 2012 at 7:28 am | Reply
    • brian

      this story is not about Fox News.

      June 19, 2012 at 7:36 am | Reply
    • Raven

      Actually Fox news is pretty much left wing these days....

      June 19, 2012 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • Boo

      That's because Fox "News" is similiar to the Soviet Union's Tass media when they were around. If you disagree with them, they will not air or print your disagreement. And it's Fox...so who gives a ****?

      June 19, 2012 at 8:42 am | Reply
  85. Rational Libertarian

    So censorship is the new tool in the War on Terror.

    Pot, meet my good friend kettle.

    June 19, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
  86. Fred54

    The best way to deal with these videos is to change the foreign policy that provokes and in many
    ways makes them necessary in the first place...

    June 19, 2012 at 6:48 am | Reply
  87. EinZuschauer

    This may work in some way on youtube and US controlled sites but not on the hundreds of Jihadi sites... I'm certain very few in America are influenced by these videos but it does give one some insight to their motivations and often highlights their hypocrisy.

    June 19, 2012 at 6:14 am | Reply
  88. JRD

    Another way to combat these postings/videos would to be to ask the public to volunteer more to flag these videos. Patriots scanning the web and reporting.

    June 19, 2012 at 4:41 am | Reply
    • Canadian

      Sure, the "patriots" would flag anything said by Romney as propaganda, if they were Democrats. And, the Republican's would flag any Obama message as propaganda. Easy answers are not the way. Perhaps it's time to let a pair of fresh unbiased eyes look for a solution. Get someone respected by all sides from Switzerland.
      This approach is like attacking individual cancer cells. You can do it, you'll probably kill all the cell around it, but, by the time your done 10 million other cells will be bad!

      June 19, 2012 at 6:02 am | Reply
      • BloodNThunder

        Go and troll around on a BBC web site

        June 19, 2012 at 6:15 am |
      • Canadian

        BloodNThunder and very little brains.

        June 19, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  89. ciaopaparazzi

    You don't fight them by trying to stop them. You fight propaganda with truth. But no one is doing that. All we have is the news media spreading their hypocrisy.

    June 19, 2012 at 4:29 am | Reply
    • Bob

      Because the real truth is as bad as their propaganda.

      June 19, 2012 at 5:02 am | Reply
    • Johan S

      Correct, unfortunately very very few people realize this. And so the problem will get worse.

      June 19, 2012 at 5:12 am | Reply
  90. Youdontwantany

    "Our review teams respond to flagged videos around the clock, routinely removing material under those guidelines when content is flagged by users or other external groups," the Google spokesperson said. AND WHO WOULD THE EXTERNAL GROUP BE?

    June 19, 2012 at 4:19 am | Reply
    • dont be a sucker

      VERY Astute my friend!

      June 19, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
    • mmi16

      Owners of the content in many cases.

      June 19, 2012 at 5:36 am | Reply
    • anon

      the users are the external group

      June 19, 2012 at 5:39 am | Reply
    • bannister

      The external groups are probably just what you think they are – government agencies like the FBI, the CIA and Homeland Security who are in charge of monitoring terrorist activities. Duh.

      June 19, 2012 at 5:58 am | Reply
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