YouTube admitted it made ‘the wrong call’ to pull Syria violence videos

23 Aug 2017

Coalition forces hitting ISIS target in the Kobani district in Syria. Image: Orlok/Shutterstock

YouTube has admitted it made a big mistake in pulling thousands of videos created to highlight atrocities occurring in Syria.

YouTube’s algorithms and decision-making process for what is and isn’t deemed a violation of its terms of service remains an ongoing debate. Indeed, its decision to remove thousands of videos highlighting violence in Syria has been decried by civil rights proponents.

According to the BBC, videos used by citizen journalism services such as Bellingcat were suddenly pulled from the video platform after YouTube’s algorithms – used to identify extremist content – spotted them.

While tech companies have promised to do more to remove content advocating for extremism online from groups such as ISIS and the far-right, YouTube has admitted it made a mistake in this case.

In a statement, the Google-owned service said it made “the wrong call” and it has now reinstated the videos.

“When it’s brought to our attention that a video or channel has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it,” it said.

YouTube added that it is “continuing to improve” its systems to prevent a situation where violent content used for educational or documentary purposes is blocked or removed.

YouTube’s response to extremism

Last June, YouTube revealed a raft of new changes set to come to the platform to combat online extremism under a broad four-point plan.

Among the changes was the introduction of warning messages before extreme videos that create a blurred line between banned and acceptable – for example, those containing inflammatory religious or supremacist content.

In addition, those watching recruitment videos for organisations such as ISIS will now be targeted with specialised advertising that will attempt to show them anti-terrorist videos.

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins – previously interviewed by – said that the removal of these videos is challenging the work his organisation and others do.

“We have a situation where a few videos get wrongly flagged and a whole channel is deleted,” he said.

“For those of us trying to document the conflict in Syria, this is a huge problem … some channels have tens of thousands of videos. Retroactively pointing a system at old videos is a bigger issue than YouTube realises.”

Coalition forces hitting ISIS target in the Kobani district in Syria. Image: Orlok/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic