An open letter to Susan Wójcicki
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Dear Susan Wójcicki,
Some time ago I saw an interview with you on CNN about interruptions. Yes, we all hate to be interrupted. But still, I would like to interrupt you and draw your attention to something which (as far as I know) isn’t your direct responsibility in your hard work as YouTube CEO, but it is an important part of the general policy of YouTube.
My concerns are about YouTube, terrorism, Community guidelines and much more. I’m writing to you from Poland. This fact isn’t important in itself, but perhaps I should present myself before I present my problem. I am an old man, and quite a lot of my life has been dedicated to promoting the writings of dissidents from Poland and other Communist countries. It became a habit, and now since Communism collapsed I continue to promote the voices of dissidents from the Muslim World. I retired almost two decades ago from my work as a journalist, and now together with my wife I run a website, writing and translating articles about science, the secular state, and democracy. Voices of dissidents from the Muslim world are very important in any discourse about the secular state and democracy. Some of those dissidents are devoted guardians of the Enlightenment’s most important values. Perhaps the history of your own family helps you to understand why writers and philosophers from troubled parts of the world are dreaming about something that we so often take for granted.
The Internet changed the world. It is easier to find those dissidents and it is easier to contact them. But it seems that this incredible tool has helped the enemies of democracy even more.
Yigal Carmon, President of MEMRI, published an article not long ago under the title An Internet Clean of Jihadi Incitement - Not-mission-impossible. Most probably you know this article. I agree with Carmon’s statement, that: “The Internet, just like nuclear energy and other developments in modern technology, is both a blessing and a source of danger. In most other fields, scientific and technological developments were followed by regulatory legislation to head off potential danger to society and to human life. Land, maritime, and aerial transportation, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, and an endless list of other industries and professions were all subject to regulation.”
It seems that YouTube started to do the job, and first attacked those who documented hate speech, incitement, and propaganda material from terror organizations. I could be wrong, but the conclusions of an article by Steven Stalinsky and R. Sosnow and Elliot Zweig under the title Warning: Graphic Testing YouTube’s ‘Promotes Terrorism’ Flagging Feature Part-IV are really disturbing.
MEMRI tested YouTube’s flagging system. As we can read in this article: “The videos flagged as part of this study included those focusing on martyrs from the Muslim world. In 2015, the MEMRI CJL flagged 115 videos of martyrs, and over the past two years, it has checked on the status of the flagged videos to see what, if anything, happened to them. The results are that after two years, 69 out of 115 videos remain active, highlighting the failure of YouTube’s flagging system.”
This failure of your flagging system was documented by MEMRI in several reports. Prominent leaders of terrorist organizations use your platform frequently. MEMRI systematically flagged their propaganda published on YouTube.
- Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and 9/11 attack glorification videos – 100 were flagged, 58 remained online.
- Yemeni-American Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki videos – 127 were flagged, 111 remained online.
- Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri videos – 125 were flagged, 57 remained online
Many people are asking themselves what is this MEMRI? According to their own presentation of themselves they are “bridging the language gap”, they tell us what we can find in the media in Arab, Farsi, Urdu and other languages of the Islamic world. Thanks to them we can learn what politicians, clerics, leaders of terrorist organizations, journalists, and dissidents say in their vernacular to their own public. MEMRI publishes translations from the press, official documents, events documented on video, etc. Not all people think that’s important. Some are irritated and cry that it is better not to know about all this hatred and incitement.
However, we think that it is very important to know, for example, that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the leading cleric of the Muslim Brotherhood, is calling for Hitler’s work to be finished, or that President al-Sisi is calling for the reformation of Islam, or that there are philosophers and even Muslim clerics who criticize “moderate” Muslims for their silence about Islamic terror and incitement in schools, the media, and mosques.
For these video documents MEMRI has created its own platform, MEMRI TV, but it also shows those videos on YouTube, and your institution several times judged that it wasn’t denouncing hate speech and incitement but promoting it, and it blocked their video clips.
Part of our work has also been to bridge the language gap and to show those documents to a Polish audience. We have published about 800 of those clips with Polish subtitles. Three of those video clips were flagged and classified by your staff as content that contravened your Community guidelines. The first one was about a four-year-old mujahid from ISIS (See: https://www.memri.org/tv/four-year-old-mujahid-syria-vows-slaughter-infidels), the second was about ISIS child soldiers, and the third was about a Palestinian cleric preaching in Al-Aqsa and protesting the killing of Muslims members of ISIS by the West. Of course, we appealed, and after the third protest from our side our account was suspended.
I am not asking you for an intervention in this particular case. The problem is much more serious than a YouTube account of one old Polish user. I don’t want to cry J’accuse, but I have a feeling that your policy is immoral and suicidal. It could be profitable, it can bring more advertisements, but in my judgment it is very dangerous. Of course, I can be wrong, perhaps it is better not to know, it can be more profitable to appease terrorists, it is easier to forget about the millions of Muslims terrorized and killed by fanatics.
I am writing to you because of your position in YouTube, but also because of your Polish connections. Most probably you know much more about totalitarian systems than most other Americans. You may try to influence your colleagues to change current YouTube policy or you may decide to stay silent.
Your grandfather and my parents were in the same political party after the WW II. They tried in a democratic way to save freedom in Poland and they lost. Please, think about it.
Your YouTube user.