Why we’re allowing YouTube videos of the Charlie Hebdo attack: “On Wednesday, shortly after the horrifying murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, video clips of the attack and the gunmen’s escape were posted on YouTube. One of these videos showed the gunmen shooting and wounding a police officer, then returning to execute him as he lay injured on the ground.
The murder of Officer Ahmed Merabet—and of the 11 other victims—has shocked the world. As copies of the video began to circulate, we had to decide whether they should stay up on YouTube. It’s the same dilemma we face every time moment of death footage is flagged on the site. So, as always, we carefully considered the dignity of the victim as well as the video’s news or documentary value, and the world’s right to bear witness to events, however heinous. It’s a fundamental part of YouTube’s ethos to provide a platform on which people can document atrocities through eyewitness accounts. Anyone—activist, citizen journalist, or regular person—can open our eyes to global events in ways that only video can capture—for example, the murder of Neda Soltan in Iran, the slaughter of children in Syria, or victims jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center on 9/11.
So we made the difficult policy decision to allow the video to remain on YouTube. Critically, in this case, the filming was done by a bystander (press reports suggest a journalist from the office next door) who risked his or her safety to document what was happening. In contrast to many of the ISIS terrorist beheading videos that have been uploaded (and subsequently taken down) in recent months, this video was not filmed by the perpetrators and was not intended to terrorize. Even though it is shaky, user-generated footage, it is a critical part of piecing together and collectively understanding an event that happened outside of the media spotlight.
The press, in creating its news programs, has editorial guidelines that require blurring out the moment of death. YouTube, on the other hand, does not create context, edit content, or even post the videos. We can only decide whether or not a video violates our policies, and should remain on our platform. And we can, and do, ensure that graphically violent content like this is age-gated, contains a warning interstitial, does not appear on our homepage, and is not monetized. (And if, like the press, we weren’t able to restrict the video to ages 18+, we wouldn’t allow the video to be up either.)
That doesn’t mean that we’ve allowed every posting of this video to stay up. We’ve removed hundreds of clips that did not make the news context clear, were posted just as click bait, or were intended to shock, glorify, or promote violence (for example, by using an inflammatory headline). We’re also removing videos from view in countries where we’ve received a valid legal complaint indicating that they violate local law.
We’re horrified by this tragedy and appalled that violence like this is part of our world. But the violence is the problem, not the recording or sharing of information about it. So rather than erase the only eyewitness accounts from public view, we’ve decided to let the world see what happened. Fundamentally, we hope that exposure to this reality will help hold the perpetrators accountable and ensure that this tragedy remains in our collective memory.”