YouTube removes (then reinstates) video of Israeli strike on Hamas commander

Update: YouTube has reinstated the video. A company spokeswoman tells All Things Digital's Peter Kafka, "With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it." Kafka's take is that YouTube users flagged the video yesterday, triggering a review process that ended in a YouTube staffer deciding to remove the content early this morning. It appears that call was overruled.

Original post: Yesterday I highlighted the Israeli military's efforts to live blog and live tweet its offensive in the Gaza Strip, raising important questions about the role social media should play in today's military operations. Apparently, at least one social media site seems to think the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) went a step too far.

On Wednesday, the IDF uploaded and linked to a video of a successful strike against Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari. YouTube has since blocked the footage, which featured an aerial view of a vehicle carrying Jabari exploding, explaining that the content violated YouTube's terms of service. Those terms include these pointers:

  • Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.
  • YouTube is not a shock site. Don't post gross-out videos of accidents, dead bodies or similar things intended to shock or disgust.

As with any content-moderation decision, the removal raises questions about where and when YouTube draws its red lines about controversial content. And you can ask the same question about Twitter. On Wednesday, All Things Digital's Mike Isaac asked whether the microblogging site is obligated to remove messages like the IDF's tweet yesterday recommending that "no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead." Here's Isaac:

Are these practices within the bounds of the Twitter and Facebook Terms of Service? Even from a close reading, it is difficult to tell. According to Twitter's rulebook, users are not permitted to "publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others," nor are users allowed to use Twitter "for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities." That includes tweets both foreign and domestic, as Twitter's "international users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content"....

But under what area do the IDF's activities fall? Is Israel on sturdy ground if it restricts its Twitter activity to mere reportage of events happening on the ground? Should a tweet such as this - where the IDF advises Hamas leaders not to "show your faces above ground in the days ahead" - be considered a threat?....

The ultimate question for these Web giants: Is this a speech issue, or a safety issue? Will Twitter, Facebook and even Yahoo - Flickr's owner - eventually step in if the situation escalates? Or will they let this play out over the course of the IDF's campaign?

And at what point is global policy exempt from the standard terms of service agreements written by Twitter, Facebook and the like? Should a declaration of warfare via Twitter be considered a "direct and specific threat," or a matter of foreign policy no different than a political address carried out over a broadcast network?

So far, the IDF's warning to Hamas operatives remains on Twitter -- with more than 4,000 retweets.


Obama's Susan Rice strategy: Dare Republicans to spike her nomination

President Obama came out with guns blazing at today's news conference, his first since re-election, pushing back hard against Republican senators' disparaging remarks about U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, Washington's odds-on favorite to get the nod as America's next secretary of state.

The president may indeed be genuinely outraged that one of his reportedly closest advisors is taking heat for the Sept. 11 snafu in Benghazi -- a situation Rice had nothing to do with. He repeated the administration's claim that when Rice took to the airwaves on Sept. 16 to explain the events in Libya, she was merely working with what the intelligence community had given her. And as far as we know, that's precisely what happened. (Benghazi isn't really the reason senators are objecting to Rice anyway, but that's for another post.)

But it's not hard to see the politics behind why Obama chose to confront the senators, mainly John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom immediately fired back on the Senate floor. Neither man is especially beloved in the Republican caucus, and they may well be out of step with what Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to do. Moderates like Bob Corker, the presumed new ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have played their cards close to the chest. If the White House can isolate McCain and Graham, then it shouldn't be too hard to come up with the 60 votes needed for cloture and an up-or-down vote (should Rice in fact be nominated). If and when Rice's name comes down next January, Democrats will be working with a 55-45 majority, so finding five Republican defectors ought to be easy.

Interestingly, some of the political types seem to have perked up during this little spat. Bill Burton, who co-ran Obama's SuperPAC, tweeted earlier today, "McCain's illogical & vicious attacks on Susan Rice seem politically idiotic coming off a GOP whoopin' from women voters across the country." Political guru David Axelrod added later, "POTUS strongly & appropriately smacks down McCain and Graham for their shameless, dishonest attacks on Susan Rice, a great public servant." (Rice's spokesperson at the U.S.-U.N. office, Erin Pelton, retweeted that one.)

One doesn't want to make too much of a few tweets, but it sure looks to me like the Obama people are double-dog daring Republicans to try to block -- or otherwise trip up -- the nomination of an African-American woman to a cabinet post following an election when the GOP got clobbered among women and minority voters. A lot of Republicans are taking a hard look at the demographic cliff right now, and they don't like what they see. Would they really want to risk a Sonya Sotomayor redux?