YouTube is rejecting calls to take down a video showing the assassination of Hamas’ military leader, despite the video-sharing service’s apparent ban on “graphic or gratuitous violence.”
Israel launched its “Operation Pillars of Defense” on Wednesday by blowing up Ahmed al-Jabari as he was driving his car down the street in Gaza. Hours later, aerial footage of the kill shot was posted to YouTube — and instantly went viral, racking up nearly two million views.
The video not only kicked of a fierce battle of opinion on social media that’s roughly paralleling the rockets-and-airstrikes conflict. It also appeared to violate YouTube’s community guidelines, which tells users: “if your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don’t post it.”
But a YouTube employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the guidelines are just that — guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. Users can flag a video as potentially objectionable, but the decision to take a clip down ultimately rests with YouTube’s global team of reviewers. The calculations get complicated, especially for warzone footage.
“We look at videos on a case-by-case videos when they’re flagged,” the employee tells Danger Room. “And we look at the context, the intent with which something is posted.”
A snuff film, posted just for the sick thrill of it, won’t last long. But a similarly graphic clip, posted in “documentary fashion” or for political effect, “will be judged differently,” the employee adds.
Hamas and its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, are trying to provoke sympathy and outrage over the caught-on-video slaying of Jabari, and over the civilian deaths that have come from Israel’s air attacks on Gaza. But any good will may have just evaporated. Hamas — which claims to be an Islamic movement — is now firing rockets at Jerusalem, Islam’s third-holiest city, and bragging about it on Twitter. (Remember, these are unguided projectiles that could land on a school or a mosque as easily a military checkpoint.) That’s in addition to shooting off hundreds of missiles and rockets at the civilian centers like Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and Beersheba. In the last year, more than 700 rockets, mortars, and missiles have been launched from Gaza.
The Israeli missile defense system known as Iron Dome has been remarkably capable, stopping 184 rockets in recent days, the AFP reports. But it has not been perfect. Three Israeli civilians were slain on Thursday in the southern town of Kiryat Malakhi.
This is the second time in recent months that YouTube’s guidelines have become an international political issue. Back in September, the White House asked Google, YouTube’s corporate parent, to double-check if the incendiary anti-Islam video “The Innocence of Muslims” violated YouTube’s guidelines. The video-sharing service declined to do so — although YouTube did block it in several Muslim countries. President Obama later spoke up in favor of the free flow of information. (Separately, a California judge rebuffed an “Innocence” actress’ request to pull the video on copyright grounds.)
YouTube has become one of the primary windows into the world’s far-flung conflicts — especially ones like the Syrian civil war, which has only a handful of outside journalists reporting from the battlefields. But the video-sharers deny that they’re setting any kind of precedent by leaving the disturbers video of Jabari’s death on YouTube. That’s just not how YouTube works, apparently. “This is not about who you are but what you post,” the employee says. “Everything’s done a-fresh.”