YouTube Blames COVID for Censorship of Pro-Israel Legal Scholar's Video

May 18, 2021

YouTube is blaming the COVID pandemic and shoddy technology for its inconsistent censorship of a legal expert's defense of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Monday that YouTube twice removed a clip of George Mason University law professor Eugene Kontorovich discussing the legal status of Israeli strikes in Gaza. The second time, YouTube informed Kontorovich that his clip violated the platform's "violent criminal organizations" policy, which YouTube typically invokes to take down terrorist hostage or recruitment videos.

But on Tuesday, YouTube told the Free Beacon that "automated systems" were to blame for how the video was handled. "As part of our response to COVID-19, we are temporarily relying more on technology to help with some of the work normally done by reviewers. In this case, automated systems removed content that did not violate our policies, and we worked to quickly reinstate it."

YouTube and Facebook, among other big tech platforms, say they are forced to rely on machine learning algorithms to deal with the flood of material on their platforms. But those systems often result in content being removed inappropriately. Occasionally, social media users will band together to flag posts as inappropriate in order to trick automatic moderating systems into removing legitimate content. It is unclear whether anyone reported Kontorovich's video to YouTube.

Kontorovich alleged that taking down the video for 24 hours during wartime was part of "a major campaign to portray" Israeli defense efforts "as illegal and in violation of the laws of war." In the clip, Kontorovich argued that Israeli strikes satisfied all international law requirements.

Even before COVID, the machine learning algorithms tech companies billed as the solution to content moderation had to be supplemented by armies of laborers. For instance, reports from 2019 identified the web of Facebook's low-wage contractors in the Philippines who worked long hours sifting through videos of child abuse and violence, removing them by hand.