Google Denies Reaching YouTube Monitoring Agreement With Israel

Internet giant rejects Foreign Ministry statement, now retracted, of new shared mechanism to take down YouTube videos that incite to terrorism.

Google denied a report by the Foreign Ministry that it reached an agreement with the Israeli government to jointly monitor YouTube videos that incite people to launch terrorist attacks on Israelis.

Last week, the ministry said that Google, which owns YouTube, had agreed to a joint mechanism to monitor online materials – including clips that encourage violent attacks on Israelis – following a meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and executives of the multinational Internet company.

On Monday, the company declared that no such agreement had been reached at the meeting.

The Foreign Ministry last week announced a number of steps the government is taking to fight online incitement, including hiring people with technological expertise and knowledge of Arabic, including veterans of the Israel Defense Forces' elite 8200 intelligence unit, to keep tabs on inflammatory online content. Indeed, a new office is being created in the ministry that will flag such content real-time.

A Google spokesman said the November 24 meeting in California between Hotovely, Juniper Downs, Google’s senior counsel for public policy, and YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki, was just “one of many that we have with policy makers from different countries to explain our policies on controversial content, flagging and removals.”

However, Hotovely’s bureau insisted there is no contradiction between the statement issued by the ministry and what Google subsequently said about the meeting. The problem, a bureau source said, may be in Google’s interpretation: “When we say joint mechanism it can be interpreted in different ways."

The source explained that the intention is that ministry employees who deal with incitement to violence will be in regular contact with Google’s employees in Israel who deal with the problematic materials.

“It could be that Google interpreted this as meaning the establishment of joint teams,” he said, adding that, "The Foreign Ministry has corrected its original announcement which, in error, suggested there had been an agreement with Google to establish a mechanism together to monitor online materials."

For his part, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed that a statement on the ministry website about the creation of a joint program had been changed, and noted that Israel was still “extremely grateful for the good relations with Google.”

“Our common objective is to remove dangerous incitement to violence on social media," he said. "We have full confidence in the Google teams dealing with this process.”