YouTube removes (then reinstates) video of Israeli strike on Hamas commander

YouTube removes (then reinstates) video of Israeli strike on Hamas commander

Update: YouTube has reinstated the video. A company spokeswoman tells All Things Digital‘s Peter Kafka, "With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it." Kafka’s take is that YouTube users flagged the video yesterday, triggering a review process that ended in a YouTube staffer deciding to remove the content early this morning. It appears that call was overruled.

Original post: Yesterday I highlighted the Israeli military’s efforts to live blog and live tweet its offensive in the Gaza Strip, raising important questions about the role social media should play in today’s military operations. Apparently, at least one social media site seems to think the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) went a step too far.

On Wednesday, the IDF uploaded and linked to a video of a successful strike against Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari. YouTube has since blocked the footage, which featured an aerial view of a vehicle carrying Jabari exploding, explaining that the content violated YouTube’s terms of service. Those terms include these pointers:

  • Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don’t post it.
  • YouTube is not a shock site. Don’t post gross-out videos of accidents, dead bodies or similar things intended to shock or disgust.

As with any content-moderation decision, the removal raises questions about where and when YouTube draws its red lines about controversial content. And you can ask the same question about Twitter. On Wednesday, All Things Digital’s Mike Isaac asked whether the microblogging site is obligated to remove messages like the IDF’s tweet yesterday recommending that "no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead." Here’s Isaac:

Are these practices within the bounds of the Twitter and Facebook Terms of Service? Even from a close reading, it is difficult to tell. According to Twitter’s rulebook, users are not permitted to "publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others," nor are users allowed to use Twitter "for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities." That includes tweets both foreign and domestic, as Twitter’s "international users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content"….

But under what area do the IDF’s activities fall? Is Israel on sturdy ground if it restricts its Twitter activity to mere reportage of events happening on the ground? Should a tweet such as this – where the IDF advises Hamas leaders not to "show your faces above ground in the days ahead" – be considered a threat?….

The ultimate question for these Web giants: Is this a speech issue, or a safety issue? Will Twitter, Facebook and even Yahoo – Flickr’s owner – eventually step in if the situation escalates? Or will they let this play out over the course of the IDF’s campaign?

And at what point is global policy exempt from the standard terms of service agreements written by Twitter, Facebook and the like? Should a declaration of warfare via Twitter be considered a "direct and specific threat," or a matter of foreign policy no different than a political address carried out over a broadcast network?

So far, the IDF’s warning to Hamas operatives remains on Twitter — with more than 4,000 retweets.