Whistleblower Khaled Hassan started work at Crisp, a Leeds-based “digital risk intelligence” firm employed to moderate content for YouTube, in February 2021.
As an Egyptian-born Arabic speaker, his job was to identify hateful content in his native language and flag it to the video sharing giant to be removed.
But he soon realised that getting the company to take down antisemitic videos and those that glorify terrorism was not going to be easy, despite YouTube’s policies claiming it will do so.
The JC had also been exposing the harmful content in a series of stories since last June. YouTube had not only failed to remove the channels but had not given us a response.
Mr Hassan, 31, discovered that there were two obstacles. One was YouTube itself, which sometimes ignored Crisp reports that flagged extremist content. The other was Crisp, which, he claims, put him under intolerable pressure as he tried to do his job.
At one stage, two of his Crisp colleagues insisted that if he wished to “flag” a video about the Middle East conflict, he should seek approval from a Palestinian colleague, who was not even a member of his team. Eventually, he says, he was transferred to a menial post, and had “no alternative but to resign”.
The JC has seen documents and messages that reveal the problems Mr Hassan faced. Within a few days of starting his job, on 17 February 2021, he had a conversation with one of his bosses on Crisp’s internal online message board.
“I flagged some videos with the hate guys. They literally said ‘God curse the Jews’ and other brazenly antisemitic stuff,” Mr Hassan said.
YouTube’s publicly-stated policy is that all “hate speech” that promotes “violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on race or religion “is not allowed” and will be “removed”.
But Mr Hassan was told that this did not apply to the videos he wanted to get YouTube to take down. His Crisp colleague wrote: “Unfortunately this stuff is not as clear cut as you think — particularly with hate speech.”
This struck Mr Hassan as ironic: “I was flagging a lot of content from radical, right-wing Jewish organisations. And for this, I received a lot of praise.”
On 4 June, he complained about the failure to flag a video that featured a speaker praising Al Qassem [the Hamas armed wing] because it “terrorises Jews.” He was told by a colleague that this was “not violative” of YouTube’s policy. This was on the bizarre grounds that the word “Jews” is mentioned in the Quran, so the speaker was merely expressing religious views.
Mr Hassan’s concerns continued to mount. In August, YouTube failed to act on a report he wrote urging it to take down the channel of the Egyptian jihadist preacher Wagdy Ghoneim. As well as displaying flagrant antisemitism, Ghoneim said that those who had “collaborated” with NATO forces in Afghanistan deserved to be “punished” by the Taliban. The video was posted at a time when many who had helped the West were being shot.
In October came futher cause for worry. When one of Mr Hassan’s Crisp colleagues flagged the Jew-hatred on the channel of the late Urdu preacher Israr Ahmed, YouTube took no action.
Things worsened on 21 November, with the murder in Jerusalem of tour guide Eli Kay by a Hamas gunman. It was followed by a slew of videos by Hamas activists praising the attack. Mr Hassan himself reported these, but YouTube again failed to act.
A week later, on 30 November, Mr Hassan voiced his concerns in two online meetings with colleagues from both YouTube and Crisp. The JC has heard recordings of these and seen transcripts of what was said.
Mr Hassan is heard asking one YouTube staffer why they had not removed a video he had flagged glorifying Baha Abu al-Ata, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader killed in 2019, who launched hundreds of missile attacks on Israel.
This, the YouTube official admitted, was a “grey area”; on the one hand, Islamic Jihad was a proscribed organisation, but on the other, al-Ata was not on YouTube’s list of 29 individual terrorists who were banned. There was therefore “no violation”, he said.
The JC has seen this “GDTI” (globally designated terrorist individuals) list. It includes only the most notorious figures, such as Osama bin laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and no one associated with Palestinian terror.
Mr Hassan asked YouTube why the jihadist Wagdy Ghoneim’s videos were still online, despite the fact that in 2017, the firm had to apologise for letting him “monetise” his hate-filled content by running adverts. Again, Khaled was told: “He is not a listed individual.”
The YouTube official conceded that Ghoneim “does talk about jihad”. However, he added: “[He] doesn’t say attack this place at this time or this person, so it doesn’t violate our policy overall”. Therefore, the videos were something “we will keep up”.
Mr Hassan pointed out that Ghoneim was wanted on terror charges in America and banned from entering Britain. The YouTube official shrugged. “Yeah, it’s really tricky with this guy,” he said. (As the JC went to press, Ghoneim’s channel, with 549,000 subscribers, was finally removed, though he appears elsewhere on the platform.)
Mr Hassan voiced his concerns once again in a second meeting, which YouTube titled a “violent extremism policy refresher”. Mr Hassan asked about the failure to take down videos that called the murder of Eli Kay a “heroic operation carried out by a martyr”. A YouTube official said that one video had been removed, but only because it included footage of dead bodies.
The others remained because they were “trying to document, to talk about what’s happening”, he added, pointing out that the videos did not feature people on the GDTI list. Moreover, they did not include the logos of recognised terrorist groups. This would have breached YouTube’s policies.
Crisp placed Mr Hassan on what his boss called an “informal action plan” to scrutinise his work — because, he claims, it felt he was trying to flag too many videos that YouTube did not consider to have violated its policy.
On 12 January, he attended a further meeting with two of his Crisp colleagues. He says it grew heated. According to Mr Hassan, one of his colleagues said: “We keep submitting non-violative content… You, Khaled, you have issues with Palestinian stuff.”
Mr Hassan said he had told Crisp that he had worked with the Board of Deputies on combating antisemitism. He was told to ask a Palestinian from another part of the company to vet any recommendation he made about videos on the conflict with Israel.
The colleague said: “Anything on Palestine, please, I kiss your hand, ask [the Palestinian colleague], ‘is this violative or not?’… for the love of God, don’t make any submissions.” A week later, Mr Hassan was transferred to a lower-grade job, no longer involved in flagging videos. Exasperated by his experiences, he resigned earlier this month.