YouTube’s Drive to Clean Up its Platform is Erasing Vital Evidence of Potential War Crimes
Sites like Bellingcat, which document human rights abuses and identify state-sponsored assassins, are worried overzealous moderation is destroying evidence
In June, the award winning investigative outfit Bellingcat, which uses open source intelligence to investigate human rights abuses, had its YouTube account suspended for four hours.
Eliot Higgins, who founded and now runs Bellingcat, didn’t know anything about it until an email from YouTube at 7.30am that day, and it was only reinstated four hours later after an outcry from other media organizations and journalists.
For some, a YouTube account suspension is annoying but not devastating. For Bellingcat, and other investigative groups like it, YouTube is a vital source of information for their investigative work.
YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing site, with two billion monthly active users visiting the website to watch the 500 hours of footage uploaded every minute. Its ease of access and ubiquity means that it functions as a living, growing archive. In some cases, the site records light-hearted cultural trends or memes that fade into obscurity, like the Numa Numa kid. But in the last decade, YouTube has also become the place to turn to if you have footage from an airstrike or a war zone.
“It’s a vast resource of the sort of video content you couldn’t possibly hope to find from conflict zones in such quantities prior to the existence of YouTube.”
Social media’s value in documenting and publicising unrest became obvious during the events of the Arab Spring. Open source intelligence (OSINT) investigations often use information garnered from social media — videos, photographs and information from tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube — to uncover the timeline behind a contentious story, or to bring little known information to light. Footage of violence in Syria found its way to YouTube and was used by newsrooms around the world to inform their coverage — especially if they couldn’t get…