The extremist jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike six years ago. But until this month, he was the leading English-speaking jihadist recruiter through more than 70,000 videos posted on YouTube.
Three-quarters of those videos are now gone from YouTube’s archives, the New York Times reported Sunday. The Times called the move by YouTube a “watershed moment” for platforms that have facilitated terrorist recruitment online.
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even Airbnb have long claimed that they’re just platforms that bear no responsibility for the material that appears on them. In the post-Russian election interference era, however, some of these platforms have been forced to start accepting slightly more responsibility.
The videos that once populated YouTube ranged from Awlaki’s early work as a mainstream imam in the U.S. to his later association with Al Qaeda. Some of his videos were mainstream lectures about Islamic history, but counterterrorism groups had called for all of his archives to be deleted since those lectures often led to other videos promoting jihad.
The 18,600 videos that remain are news reports about and debates over the legality of Awlaki’s death and commentary and condemnations of his work by scholars, the Times reported. YouTube deleted additional videos of Awlaki speaking after the Times asked about them.
Awlaki’s online presence shaped terrorists including the Boston Marathon bombers, the Fort Hood gunman, and shooters in Orlando, Florida and San Bernardino, California.
YouTube told the New York Times that human reviewers made the decision to get rid of initial videos, and then digital tools parsed through the site to delete additional copies. YouTube, which is owned by Google, didn’t respond to request for comment from Mashable.