YouTube’s Failure to Block Jihadi Recruitment Videos Laid Bare in UK Parliament

As we have pointed out many, many times on MTP, YouTube routinely hosts videos that can only be described as recruitment tools for jihad.  Some are fundraising tools, such as “Equip A Fighter for Ramadan”–the most bone-chilling metadata we’ve seen on YouTube.

Some use copyright infringement–a YouTube specialization–to glorify jihad.  The Ridley Scott picture “Kingdom of Heaven” is a favorite.

No one should be surprised that Google is depraved enough to try to make money off of these videos.  But I have always wondered why no one in the vast counterterrorism cadres in the US government has done anything about it.  With all the attention to the way ISIS uses social media, you have to ask if Google’s lobbying muscle protects them from any review of these loathsome business practices.

Fortunately, Google’s jihad connection is not lost on Members of the UK Parliament.  Speaking yesterday on the floor of the House of Commons, Diana Johnson, a leading Labour MP, had quite a lot to say about Google’s involvement with jihadi recruiting:

We recognise, of course, that events in Syria, Iraq and northern Africa are fuelling a rapidly evolving network of inter-related terror groups who pose a real threat to the UK and our allies. It is absolutely right to use all legal measures to try to counter the spread of these groups and to ensure that they cannot establish themselves in the United Kingdom.

In this case, we have two groups with close links to other proscribed groups. Jund al Khalifa-Algeria is an Algerian-based Islamic militant group, linked to al-Qaeda and hoping to establish a caliphate in northern Africa. The group is affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Secondly, Jund al-Aqsa or Soldiers of al-Aqsa is a splinter group of the al-Nusra front, and it is just three months since we proscribed JKI—Army of the Islamic Caliphate, another splinter group of the al-Nusra front. In common with the al-Nusra front, the JAA is largely based in Syria, and as a group has attracted many jihadists from outside Syria. JAA started out as a campaign against the Syrian Government, but in recent attacks the group has seemed happy to target innocent civilians….

In this case…there is no need to see sensitive information to conclude that these are terrorist groups. Far from hiding their activities, they are actively boasting about them on social media, using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread images of the most horrendous violence, alongside messages justifying it. These are not groups that want to hide; these are groups that are actively recruiting.

Why is it that jihadis are able to use these social media sites so freely?  For the same reason that Google allows videos promoting human trafficking, illegal drugs, “how to shoot heroin”, racist groups, sugar baby videos recruiting young girls into prostitution, and yes plain old copyright infringement.

Google wants to make money and they don’t care how.

Here’s a couple of examples:

Monetized jihad recruitment videos with 1.6 million views.  And how are they monetized?

jihad android

This playlist has a variety of jihadi recruiting videos on it, some of them with English subtitles, and all of which have substantial numbers of views.

Jihad 2

The Ridley Scott movie “Kingdom of Heaven” is a popular source of imagery (although only a mere 400,000 views):

Kingdom of Heaven 1

So the question is, who gets the money from YouTube’s advertising on these videos?  Aside from Google, of course.

Ms. Johnson’s examples should start to sound familiar:

The JAA YouTube channel was opened on the 28 July 2014, apparently replacing a previous YouTube channel that had been closed down. The latest Twitter account opened in September in English, again replacing an account that had been closed down. The English Twitter account—we looked at it just yesterday—has 1,460 followers. Tweets declare fallen supporters to be martyrs, and there are links to YouTube videos and other Twitter pages run by JAA. One of these pages is the official JAA Twitter page in Arabic, which has some 17,500 followers.

The videos on the YouTube channel are even more disturbing. Let us take, for example, the video uploaded on to the official JAA channel on 21 September 2014.

This video depicts JAA fighters engaging with Government forces—kicking, hanging, abusing the bodies of the dead and taking part in training exercises. It seems quite clear that this video is intended to glorify grotesque violence as a form of extremist propaganda. This video has been viewed 13,000 times, attracted 40 comments and has been “liked” on the YouTube rating system 96 times.

Is it hard to find these channels?  Not really–here’s the result of a YouTube search for “Jund al-Aqsa” (JAA):


How does this continue?  Ms. Johnson met with Google about the problem on YouTube and was given the party line:

I have met Google in the past to discuss YouTube’s hosting of terrorist propaganda, and it is supposed to be taking down extremist content when it comes across it.

And there it is–“when it comes across it.”  Google has no problem hosting the content and even profiting from it in some cases, certainly trying to drive traffic to other pages on YouTube if nothing else.


And “when it comes across” jihadi videos–which probably means when the government catches them hosting the videos–they’ll take it down.  Of course, if they’re taking it down, there’s no telling how long it’s been up there in the first place.

The Home Office’s counter-terrorism internet referral unit is also supposed to be identifying this content and getting it taken down. Here, however, is a whole YouTube channel run by, as we know, a known terrorist organisation and including sermons advocating terrorism and videos of violent terrorist acts attracting thousands of views.

And Ms. Johnson makes the point that since Google, Facebook, Twitter et al are so obsessed with profiting from these videos, these companies have refuse to police themselves.

At one level, there is an irony that these extremist terrorist groups, rallying against western consumerism, are happy to use these enormous western companies [let’s be honest–Silicon Valley money machines] to spread their message of hate, but there is also a very serious point. As the Minister said in an earlier speech to the House, the “effect is that a listed organisation is outlawed and is unable to operate in the UK. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to…support…arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation, or wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.”—[Official Report, 2 April 2014; Vol. 578, c. 948.]

A very brief look at what was available on social media enabled me to come across deeply offensive and worrying videos and tweets. I am very pleased that we are proscribing the organisations that produced them, but I think that the Minister should bear in mind that social media companies are making such videos and tweets available for everyone to see, and consider what more can be done about those companies.

As Google continuously reminds us, they don’t think much of the nation state.  But since Google seems so concerned with protecting their users, you would think that Google would lead the charge to protect their users from the jihad.

We have to thank Ms. Johnson for standing up to the Google lobbying machine–which is almost as virulent in the UK as it is in Washington.  Hopefully she will set an example to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to thoroughly investigate Google’s complicity in distributing the jihadi war cry particularly from a company like Google that benefits from so many U.S. Government contracts including from the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency.