Sri Lanka attacks: Hate preacher Zahran Hashim's videos 'did not violate' YouTube policies

April 24, 2019

YouTube initially defended hosting messages from a hate preacher linked to the Sri Lanka attacks, saying it only found one which was in breach of its policies.

Following the deadly attack on Easter Sunday, the Google-owned firm said its teams were working around the clock to ensure that videos featuring the Islamist preacher are removed.

Sky News discovered videos on YouTube featuring sermons by Zahran Hashim, the man whom authorities suspect of inspiring attackers behind the atrocities which killed at least 359 people.

One such video - an hour-long sermon, was placed in an automatically generated YouTube playlist which also referenced an "insolent cunning Christian missionary troll" - was deleted after Sky News flagged it to YouTube.

The video platform said it was removing all videos that featured Zahran Hashim other than those which portrayed him in context, such as part of a media report.

The company told Sky News that the channel belonging to the terror preacher was deleted by the user and not by its moderators.

It added that those moderators had deleted one video he uploaded, which was found to have breached YouTube's policies, with five others found to be not in violation of its content policies and with view counts under 1,000.

YouTube said it has thousands of people around the world who review and counter abuse of its platforms, and it is working with counter-extremism agencies, including the Home Office in the UK and other technology companies, to strengthen these efforts.

Sky News' diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn said: "Far from staying below the radar, Zahran Hashim seems to have been begging for attention and well-known to multiple intelligence agencies."

In a video released on Tuesday by Islamic State, purporting to feature the suicide bombers behind the Sri Lanka atrocities, one of the attackers pledges their allegiance to Hashim.

Dominic Waghorn reported that alarm had been raised in India and Sri Lanka about Hashim's conduct for some time, and he was known to Sri Lankan intelligence - although authorities appeared not to have acted on the matter.

Sri Lanka's deputy defence minister Ruwan Wijewardene said investigations were ongoing to identify the mastermind of the attack, but referenced an Islamic State video in which Zahran Hashim was mentioned.

Neil Potts, the public policy director at Facebook, Katy Minshall, the head of public policy in the UK at Twitter, and YouTube's director of public policy Marco Pancini were questioned by MPs earlier about the role their platforms had in spreading hate material.

Mr Pancini said: "Our focus after the horrific events in Sri Lanka was to, first and foremost, make sure that we applied the procedures that we described before.

"So we identified the attackers, we worked together will law enforcement to make sure that if they had a channel or presence on the platform, that it was closed, and make sure that when people search for information on what's happening, they find authoritative sources."

The video which Sky News flagged to YouTube was deleted moments after Mr Pancini claimed the company had followed these procedures.

In a statement, YouTube said it "rejects violent extremism and we take swift action against terrorism content".

It added: "We are removing videos that feature the perpetrators of this attack.

"We've invested heavily in people, smart detection technology, and a network of expert organisations to ensure we keep making progress in detecting and removing extremist content as quickly as possible."

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