With only minimal media fanfare, violent crime is on the rise in London. There have been many explanations on offer for this, ranging from the refugee migrant crisis to drastic cuts to funding for youth services. Specifically noteworthy is the upward trend in knife violence, which, we will note, began before the Middle East refugee crisis, but has accelerated since. Knife attacks have risen not only in what could be called "terrorist" incidents involving Islamic extremists, but also in the more banal gang-related type of incidents as well. As experts search for the real cause and solution to all of this, however, London Mayor Sadiq Khan insists he has found the real enemy in all of this: YouTube.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has criticised Google’s YouTube after it failed to take down four violent gang videos describing killing methods and threatening rivals, which were flagged by police. The videos reportedly show gang members waving a large Rambo-style knife as they attempt to goad rivals. The videos have been watched more than 356,000 times and have not been removed despite YouTube’s terms saying it takes “threats, harassment, intimidation (and) inciting others to commit violent acts” seriously.
“Google, YouTube and other platforms have a responsibility to the millions of young people using their sites every day, and it is vital that they toughen up their guidelines, remove breaches immediately and work with partners to help ensure such horrific videos do not reappear. Lives could depend on it,” said Khan. “Social media and the internet can be used to inflame tensions and escalate violence quicker than ever before, and these videos are a shocking example of the glamorisation of gang culture.”
It will never cease to amaze me how many people can look at a complex social problem with all sorts of subtle causes and influences... only to turn around and find an easy scapegoat in technology. Specifically the internet. London has endured a 24% rise in knife crime and His Honor is going to war with YouTube over four whole videos. In the first link in the introduction above, the New York Times interviews youths now carrying knives, typically found in their kitchen drawers, and provides a fairly good explanation of why these youths are arming themselves in the street. Absent from the prose of that article as any mention of teens slipping blades in their pockets because a YouTube video told them so.
It's also worth noting that these videos make for great evidence for convicting bad actors when they actually do carry out attacks.
Similar violent videos helped convict four men for the murder of 18-year-old Marcel Addai in September 2015, and have been used in other successful prosecutions.
Now, YouTube has reviewed the specific videos in question and has decided to leave them up, while also noting that it is committed to working with police to take down true violent content. The problem in all of this is that there is a fuzzy line drawn between valid expression and an actual threat. If I wanted to, I could twist all kinds of content on YouTube and claim it represented real violent threats, from political expression to drill rap videos that often feature weapons to dramatic expressions. What YouTube typically requires is verified context that a threat made in a video is both specific and real before taking it down. It has deemed these videos not to cross that line.
“We work closely with organisations like the Metropolitan police to understand local context and specifically, so that we can understand where artistic expression escalates into real threats. We’re committed to continuing and improving our work on this issue and making YouTube a hostile space for those who seek to do harm.”
Which is as it should be, no matter the London Mayor that wishes to scapegoat the internet while too many of his own citizens bleed in his own streets.