Cannes Lions: Google Executives Call for Online Pushback Against ISIS

'Saturday Night Live' has mocked ISIS in several skits, including one with '50 Shades of Grey' star Dakota Johnson.

Executives vow that the Internet giant's YouTube will not let itself be used to propagate “brutally violent propaganda” such as beheadings, but also say no to blanket censorship.

Google wants to push back against ISIS and has called on the online community to challenge the group's “terrorist propaganda.”

Speaking at the Cannes Lions festival, Google's legal chief David Drummond and the company's policy director Victoria Grand issued a call to arms, saying the media industry has to push back against terrorists who have created a “viral moment” on social networks with propaganda, including beheading videos. The company said advertising and marketing executives — the group making up the Cannes Lions audience — should work to create and push anti-ISIS content on YouTube and other social media.

“We used to think of terrorists as people who are hiding out in caves. But now would-be terrorists are hanging out online,” said Drummond, according to The Guardian. “Technology is one of the greatest tools we have to reach at-risk youth all over the world and divert them from hate and radicalization. We can only do that if we offer them alternatives.”

Grand said the challenge “is to strike this balance between allowing people to be educated about the dangers and the violence of this group, but not allowing ourselves to become a distribution channel for this horrible, but very newsworthy, terrorist propaganda.”

Google has allowed several controversial — and graphic — videos to be posted on YouTube, including footage of terrorists killing a Paris policeman outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this year.

“As with other moment-of-death footage, we had to consider the dignity of the victim as well as the video’s news and commentary value,” said Drummond. “We decided to leave it up, and leave it up globally.” The footage in France, however, was taken down for legal reasons.

“It’s important to recognize here that the filming was done by a bystander who recorded the event. It wasn’t filmed by the perpetrators, wasn’t intended to terrorize anyone. Even though it is shaky footage, it became a critical part of piecing this event together, helping us to understand an event that happened far out of the media spotlight.”

Grand, however, did criticize decisions by other media outlets, including Fox News, who chose to run full footage of the ISIS execution of a Jordanian fighter pilot, footage Google blocked from its service.

“Like the others, the purpose of this ISIS execution of a Jordanian fighter pilot is to showcase in full high definition the most brutal way to die,” said Grand. “But a handful of mainstream broadcast outlets, including many outlets in the Middle East, as well as Fox News, made the decision to show this even though they wouldn’t show the beheading (of James Foley).”

Grand said while the beheading “was technically news” putting the footage in a news context still did not change what it was, “brutally violent propaganda produced by terrorists, and we just don’t want YouTube to be a distribution channel for it.”

Drummond, who has been a leading figure in Google's battles with media regulators worldwide, made clear the search giant was not calling for blanket censorship.

“For many, the answer seems to be censorship. Although we take down the worst content from our sites, at Google, given the proliferation of content online, we don’t believe that censoring the existence of ISIS on Google, YouTube or social media will dampen their impact, really,” said Drummond. “We think there is a better way to combat the hateful rhetoric of ISIS, by countering it with reason. Understand it. Standing up to it. Enforced silence is not the answer. Drowning out the harmful ideology with better messages, with reasonable messages, is the better way.”

Twitter:@sroxborough

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