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YouTube hit for al Qaeda posts

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UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday called for YouTube to remove al Qaeda videos that users had posted, but the site said most of the videos his office had flagged did not contain material which violated its guidelines and rejected his request.

In a letter to Eric Schmidt, chairman and chief executive officer of Google Inc., which owns YouTube, Mr. Lieberman urged the popular video-sharing service to enforce its "community guidelines" against "graphic or gratuitous violence," and said the company should change its rules "to address violent extremist material."

Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent, wrote that removing videos from al Qaeda and other extremist groups should be straightforward, because "so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance."

In a blog posting, YouTube said it welcomed the dialogue with Mr. Lieberman but noted that "most of the videos" his office had drawn to its attention "did not contain violent or hate speech content" and had not been removed from the site "because they do not violate our Community Guidelines."

YouTube, which hosts millions of videos posted daily by its user-community, also rejected the idea that it should pre-screen content for videos produced by al Qaeda and other terror groups.

The blog posting said the site "encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view. We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds."

An aide for Mr. Lieberman said the material that he was concerned about went beyond the bounds of acceptable free speech.

"It is not reasonable for an al Qaeda spokesman to visit the United States and try to recruit and build support here," the aide told United Press International. "Why is it reasonable for the same person to do that in this virtual community?"

Mr. Lieberman's critics think the senator is misunderstanding the nature of the Internet.

"There is nothing YouTube or Senator Lieberman can do to keep these videos off the Internet," said John Morris, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, adding that most of the propaganda videos produced by al Qaeda and other groups "contained nothing that is illegal."

Mr. Morris also pointed out that removing such material automatically might not be easy. "The idea that they would have to review every video [posted], even by a semi-automated process, is not a practical reality," he said.

Ben N. Venzke, chief executive officer of IntelCenter, a private contractor that monitors extremist Web communications for clients including the U.S. government, put it this way: "If automated means were used to identify material, would a news report or documentary containing the same material ... be blocked or removed simply because the logo [of al Qaeda or another terror group] appeared [in it]?"

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