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YouTube Whistleblower Alleges Platform Refused to Remove Antisemitic Content

Khaled Hassan is a former content moderator for YouTube (Photo by John Nguyen)

YouTube routinely ignored warnings from its own moderators to take down antisemitic videos, including some that inspired the Texas synagogue gunman, a whistleblower has told the JC.

The refusal to delete the incendiary footage, which glorifies terrorism and brands Jews “agents of Satan”, makes a mockery of the web giant’s supposed commitment to safeguarding users, the whistleblower said.

Former moderator Khaled Hassan, 31, who was employed to identify extremism in Arabic language videos until two months ago, accuses YouTube of “shirking its legal and moral responsibilities”.

In shocking testimony, the whistleblower reveals: 

  • YouTube ignored warnings that specific videos would incite violence against Jews, just weeks before British terrorist Malik Faisal Akram watched the same clips and took four hostages at Beth Israel synagogue in Texas.
  • YouTube ignored requests to remove videos by Wagdy Ghoneim, a leading Egyptian jihadist who is banned in the UK, on the grounds that he was not on an internal watchlist of just 29 names.
  • Mr Hassan was told that when he wished to “flag” any video about the Middle East conflict, he should seek approval from a Palestinian colleague.
  • The whistleblower was moved to a more menial job because, he claimed, he highlighted videos that YouTube did not want to remove.
  • The social media giant refused to delete clips celebrating the November murder of Jerusalem tour guide Eli Kay because they did not display the logo of a terrorist organisation.

Reacting to the JC’s investigation, Culture and Media Secretary Nadine Dories condemned YouTube’s failure to combat hate speech, and pledged that her Online Safety Bill would compel it to in future.

“If platforms like YouTube fail to act, Ofcom will have robust powers to take enforcement action against them,” she said.

After months of resisting calls to remove harmful content, Late on Wednesday, YouTube suspended Ghoneim’s main channel minutes before the JC went to press. He appears elsewhere on the platform, however, in clips that have clocked up tens of thousands of views. The video giant, which is owned by Google, said it had taken down 10 more videos as a result of our investigation, and was reviewing others. 

This newspaper has repeatedly reported the fact that extreme antisemitism is widespread on YouTube in Urdu and other languages, most recently after the Texas synagogue seige. This is the first time that the company has responded to our questions, let alone removed videos we exposed.  

Mr Hassan disclosed that YouTube was handed a report in October explicitly warning that hate videos risked triggering violent attacks against Jews. We have revealed that the Texas synagogue gunman had watched clips that Mr Hassan had flagged, and which YouTube had failed to remove.

Mr Hassan, 31, a counter-terrorism expert who spent years fighting extremism in Egypt before achieving a master’s degree in security policy at Leicester University, told the JC: “YouTube’s policy is a sham. They claim they will remove content that glorifies terrorism and contains racist hate speech, but what they do behind the veil of company secrecy is very different.

“They are shirking their legal and moral responsibilities. They tell users that their platform is safe. In fact, they are allowing people to be radicalised and reinforcing claims that Jews are evil and rule the world.”  

YouTube’s policies state that “safety is our highest priority”. The firm claims it will not allow “content praising or justifying violent acts by terrorist organisations” or material that may “promote or aid them”. It also says: “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups,” based on their race or religion.

Until earlier this month, Mr Hassan worked for the Leeds based “risk intelligence” firm Crisp, which has a multimillion pound contract to “flag” content that breaches YouTube’s policies. It also moderates content on Facebook and, until recently, TikTok. In 2020, its revenue was £25.5 million

Among the YouTube videos that triggered Mr Hassan’s concerns are dozens in which late Pakistani preacher Israr Ahmed spouts undiluted Jew-hate, with titles such as “New World Order, Jew World Order”. In the videos, Ahmed calls Jews “this cursed race”, “the ultimate source of evil” and “the biggest agents of Satan”. In one video, recorded in Urdu, he says Jews “are akin to pigs”. In others, he quotes the notorious antisemitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The JC has obtained a detailed report sent to YouTube by Crisp, warning that Ahmed’s antisemitic videos were so extreme, they were likely to cause “real world” attacks against Jews.

On January 15, almost three months after report was sent to YouTube, Blackburn-born terrorist Akram took four hostages at the Beth Israel synagogue in Houston, Texas, and was shot dead after a nine-hour siege.

This week, three of Akram’s friends confirmed that he had been radicalised by watching Ahmed’s videos. One told the JC that he had seen him watching films in which Ahmed condemned Jews for “dominating the world”. 

“He sent me an Ahmed video on WhatsApp a few weeks before he left to attack the synagogue,” the friend said.

The Crisp report was not the first time that Ahmed’s Jew-hatred had been noted. In 2016, broadcasting regulator Ofcom fined the Urdu Peace TV channel £65,000 for showing Ahmed’s sermons because of their virulent antisemitism. All the videos cited in the report remained online as we went to press. 

Since the report was submitted, the audience for the channel has grown. As of this week, it stood at 2.9 million

Mr Hassan said that among other videos inciting hatred and violence that YouTube ignored were those on the channel of a leading jihadist ideologue, the Egyptian Wagdy Ghoneim, who is wanted on terrorism charges in the United States and has been banned from entering Britain since 2009.

His channel, suspended on Wednesday, which had 549,000 subscribers, included claims that Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi was secretly a Jew who advanced Israel’s interests, and lavished praise on the Taliban. 

Astonishingly, in 2017 YouTube apologised publicly for allowing Ghoneim to “monetise” his channel with advertising that netted him $25,000. Yet it did not take it down.

The JC has heard recordings and seen transcripts of meetings in which Mr Hassan confronted YouTube executives about their failure to remove harmful videos. They justified their failure to take down Ghoneim’s channels by saying that he was not on a list used by the firm of just 29 banned terrorists.

One YouTube executive admitted he did “talk about jihad”. However, he added, “he doesn’t say attack this place at this time or this person so it doesn’t violate our policy.”

Mr Hassan also flagged videos celebrating the murder of tour guide Eli Kay, who was shot in Jerusalem in November by Hamas activist Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, who had disguised himself as a Charedi Jew. The moderator was told that nothing could be done because neither Shkhaydam nor the Hamas supporters who made the videos were on YouTube’s banned list, and the clips did not display the logo of a terrorist organisation.

Mr Hassan was eventually put on an “informal action plan” — a move to monitor his output — by Crisp because they considered he was flagging too many videos YouTube did not wish to remove. 

Mr Hassan said that in January, he was told that any time he wanted to flag a video that mentioned the conflict in the Middle East, his work should be vetted by a Palestinian employee because he had “issues with Palestinian stuff”. He said he was then moved to a job where he no longer vetted videos. He resigned this month. 

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told the JC: “We know that online content promoting hatred and violence against Jews is far too prevalent. That’s why the Online Safety Bill contains significant measures to tackle not just illegal abuse, but abuse that is legal but harmful —  including racism and antisemitism

“Social media platforms like YouTube will be required to take action on such as antisemitic posts that do not meet the criminal threshold. Platforms will need to be clear about what is acceptable in their terms of service, and to enforce these consistently.

“And if platforms like YouTube fail to act, Ofcom will have robust powers to take enforcement action against them. Under this Bill, anti semitism will have no place in society – online or off.”

Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies, said: “Evidence continues to mount that tech giants such as YouTube are failing to address the problem of online hate, with woefully inadequate rules and standards, weak enforcement and limited accountability.” 

She said this underlined the need for the Bill, which ought to include “adoption and application of the full International Holocaust Remembrance Association definition of antisemitism.”

Lord Carlile QC, a former reviewer  of terrorism legislation, added: “I would expect YouTube now to take immediate action to remove these videos and to review their policies – and if they won’t, governments in Europe, including our own, will compel them to do it.” 

Dave Rich, of the Community Security Trust, commented: “Time and again we have seen major social media platforms fail to remove even the most extreme, hateful and violent content, but it is still shocking to discover how blasé and irresponsible they can be even when their own moderators are warning the of the danger they pose.”

 Crisp failed to respond to a request for comment.

A YouTube spokesperson told the JC: “Content promoting violence or hatred against the Jewish community is not allowed on YouTube. Each quarter, we remove tens of thousands of videos violating our hate speech policies. Upon review, we’ve terminated 1 channel and removed 10 videos for violating our community guidelines. Our review is on-going, and we’re committed to taking appropriate action to ensure YouTube is not a place for those who seek to do harm.”

YouTube sources said Israr Ahmad’s channel may also now be removed.

Source:https://www.thejc.com/news/news/youtube-whistleblower-my-warnings-over-terror-videos-were-ignored-4VlKq2VbvkvSoeNoByrcvz