Search Giant’s Free Speech Rhetoric Falls Flat in the Face of its Actions
(New York, NY) – Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Executive Director David Ibsen released the following statement regarding the testimony of Google CEO Sundar Pichai before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the company’s data collection and content filtering business practices:
“What we heard today was more of the same. More misdirection. More excuses. More empty promises. And more evidence that Google is completely dismissive about tackling some of the most pervasive and serious threats facing the modern world – ranging from privacy concerns, to advertising fraud schemes, to hostile state actors, to the misuse of its platforms for extremists to spread hate and terrorist propaganda.
“Mr. Pichai’s testimony serves as a reminder that Google is a for-profit company that cannot be trusted to self-regulate. Moreover, his vague assurances to ‘ramp up resources’ to solve problems and implement solutions ‘as soon as possible,’ illustrate that the company continues to deliver ambiguous responses and proposed solutions only after having been pressured by lawmakers or embarrassed in the media. Yet again, Google is working and hoping to fend off the promulgation of laws needed to reign in the company’s activities as well as the negative externalities created by tech – including the terrorists attacks that have occurred as a result of the extremist propaganda shared online on platforms like YouTube, Google+ and Google Drive.
“We thank the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s for their continued determination to hold Google accountable. Sustained pressure by government officials, who are elected to serve in the interest of public safety and security, is important to compel tech to deliver concrete solutions.”
CEP has documented instances in which Google/YouTube has made policy changes following public accusations, a scandal or pressure from lawmakers. For over a decade, Google has faced criticism for the misuse of its platforms, especially YouTube, on issues ranging from the publication of inappropriate content to copyright infringement. Rather than taking preventative measures, Google has jumped to make policy changes after considerable damage has already been done. While one would hope that Google is continuously working to improve security on YouTube and its other platforms, there is no excuse as to why so many policy changes have been reactionary, and it raises the question as to what other scandals are in the making due to still-undiscovered lapses in Google’s current policy.
In August, a CEP report titled, OK Google, Show Me Extremism: Analysis of YouTube’s Extremist Video Takedown Policy and Counter-Narrative Program, concluded that extremist propaganda – including violent videos – is still readily accessible on Google-owned YouTube, far exceeding counter-narrative content and undermining company claims about its efforts to combat online extremism. Over a year ago, Google announced its Redirect Method Pilot Program, intended to direct individuals searching for ISIS-related content on YouTube to counter-narrative videos. Between August 2 and August 3, 2018, CEP reviewed 649 YouTube videos for extremist and counter-narrative content, based on searches for six terms related to Islamic extremism. CEP found a decrease in the number of counter-narrative videos on YouTube since its assessment in April, indicating that Google has not improved the performance of its Redirect Method Program and highlighting the persistent problem of terrorist content on the platform.
In July, YouTube’s serious deficits in handling of ISIS videos were revealed in a study undertaken by CEP and Dr. Hany Farid, the world’s foremost digital forensics and hashing expert. From March 8 to June 8, 2018, CEP conducted a study to better understand how ISIS content is being uploaded to YouTube, how long it is staying online and how many views these videos receive. To accomplish this, CEP conducted a limited search for a small set of just 229 previously identified ISIS terror-related videos. The results of the study clearly show that even though most of the identified videos are removed fairly quickly, they still manage to garner thousands of views. Additionally, known ISIS videos are being re-uploaded time and again, despite claims by YouTube or Google.
In February, following YouTube’s November 2017 decision to remove the videos of notorious al-Qaeda propagandist and recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki, CEP found that many more radicalizing propagandists and ideologues have been allowed to remain online. CEP’s resource, Guide to Online Propagandists, profiled online radical thought leaders who are active on social media platforms like YouTube and encourage violence and hate. CEP has long advocated for Internet platforms such as YouTube to adopt “no-tolerance policies” such as for Awlaki. YouTube’s decision was a positive step, but more must be done to eliminate radicalizing extremist ideologies from the Internet.