YouTube bosses have been blasted by MPs for failing to remove extremist material posted on their website by known terrorist groups.
Parliament’s home affairs select committee told William McCants, global policy lead for counter terrorism, that his organisation’s processes for taking down radical and dangerous material were “simply not good enough”.
It follows repeated requests from the committee to remove content uploaded by a number of banned far-right organisations, including neo-Nazi outfit National Action.
McCants said YouTube was “investing millions of dollars” and hiring thousands of staff to review material flagged as extremist and that he had made it his “personal mission” to ensure the company took swift action against such groups.
But committee chair Yvette Cooper said the steps taken were clearly not working, and that she had been pointed towards more radical content to watch by the website’s recommended viewing platform just from having researched the issue.
“One of the recommended channels for me is Tommy Robinson [co-founder of the English Defence League],” the former shadow home secretary added.
“I have also got ‘British Warrior’ and other extremist-related channels coming up.
“I do not believe this is the first time you have heard this. You are the king of the search engine and your algorithms are promoting things that further and further radicalise people.”
McCants - who took over the post four months ago - blamed the company’s lack of action on problems with human reviewers, who allowed content to remain online even after it had been flagged by the website’s automatic detection system.
But he was unable to confirm whether those reviewers had been spoken to, or whether they were YouTube employees or contractors.
“If these things are being implemented by staff on your behalf, it’s frankly shocking that you seem to know so little about who they are, and where they are, and whether they even work for your organisation,” Cooper said.
Labour MPs Stephen Doughty and Naz Shah said McCants’ responses to the committee’s enquiries were not satisfactory.
“Are you trying to insult Parliament, and insult the public, by not taking this seriously?” asked Shah, who represents Bradford West.
“Copyrighted material such as songs is removed [from YouTube] within minutes.
“You have not invested in anything to match this. Yet this is costing people’s lives. It is illegal. Terrorism is a cancer in society.
“I am insulted that you do not know the basic answers to our questions,” she added.
McCants promised he would “take personal responsibility” for ensuring more robust action was taken and would respond to the committee’s requests for further information on staffing numbers and locations.
“We are doing everything in our power to make sure these videos do not remain online,” he said.
“We are putting in place fixes every day and spending millions of dollars to address this question.
“Are we perfect? No. Will we be perfect? No, but we are getting better and better.”
Viewers of extremist material online could face jail sentences of up to 15 years under a tightening of laws announced by home secretary Amber Rudd.
“I want to make sure those who view despicable terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions, face the full force of the law,” she said.