Conflict censorship? YouTube deletes footage of coalition airstrikes
Footage of coalition airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq has been removed and restricted by YouTube, sparking a furious censorship row for the video sharing site.
Videos allowing the world to see the devastation of the war have been deleted by YouTube – videos which offer press and public alike a rare window of transparency on the behavior of coalition forces.
This is in spite of jihadist propaganda remaining rife on the web.
Official coalition videos, released by the US Central Command and International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve, have been taken off the sharing platform or had age restrictions applied.
As the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in Britain denies civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq while bragging over the death of 3,000 jihadists, the importance placed on the videos as official documents of war is paramount.
Activists and monitoring groups have called on YouTube owner Google to act swiftly, accusing the tech giant of censoring war footage.
“We’re back to square one with @Youtube censoring conflict videos,” Airwars said on Twitter, Thursday morning.
“These are officially released videos of conflict against ISIS - permanently archived by us as a record of war, with original descriptions.
“There’s an urgent need for @Youtube @TeamYouTube to get their counter-extremism AI sorted. Legitimate conflict archives are being censored.”
The two videos in question, from 2015, relate to air strikes on IS.
One video, which was age restricted, shows a VBIED (car bomb) being taken out in Fallujah, Iraq.
Another, which was removed, shows an attack on an IS “finance distribution center” in Mosul, Iraq.
“Though other sites have experienced significant ongoing problems with YouTube’s AI, this is our first problem since August 10. YouTube has now deleted one further archived Coalition video from our channel and has age restricted another,” Chris Woods, director of Airwars, told RT.
“Both videos were originally run on the Coalition’s own channel with no issue. We can see no logical reason for these videos - among hundreds archived by Airwars - to be affected.
“Whatever YouTube’s aim here, in reality it is censoring key conflict videos which should instead be permanently archived for posterity.”
Google claims its auto-checking system, which flags content which may be suspicious, has removed videos automatically in the past.
Earlier this year activists were left reeling when evidence of war crimes in Syria were deleted.
Experts said the practice harms the UN’s ability to monitor the war and bring criminals to justice.
Human rights specialist Keith Hiatt said UN teams may “need to draw on social media and open source information when it’s building cases that it will pass to prosecutorial teams.”
“Things just got a lot harder now the videos that were on YouTube are no longer around,” he told the New York Times.
Another war crimes specialist said evidence of war in Syria, and crimes committed, is “disappearing in front of our eyes.”
Videos have previously been restored by YouTube after complaints from campaigners.
A spokesperson for YouTube told RT that uploaded videos are monitored by new “machine learning” technology, which focuses on spotting potentially problematic content, from graphic videos to the promotion of propaganda.
The videos picked up are then checked by YouTube staff.
According to the video sharing site, which receives 400 videos per minute, every single one must comply with their rules. The uploader must “make clear their purpose” and giving sufficient warning if they cover events during war.
Any video that does not comply will be removed.
YouTube admitted “mistakes have been made” but insisted any videos taken down in error will be re-posted.