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YouTube won’t ban drill music videos, says UK boss

Ben McOwen Wilson said boundaries are important online, but so is openness.

(Nick Ansell/PA)
(Nick Ansell/PA)

YouTube will not remove drill music videos from the platform because they “provide a place for those too often without a voice”, the UK head of the site has said.

Ben McOwen Wilson said the Google-owned platform supports openness and a range of opinions being allowed online but that it must work with government and regulators to find a balance on removing content.

The controversial form of rap music often includes references to real-life events including stabbings, and some have urged removal of such videos, warning that they could encourage further violence.

While some have argued there is no place for drill music on YouTube, we believe we can help provide a place for those too often without a voice Ben McOwen Wilson, YouTube

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr McOwen Wilson said it was “right” that anything which is illegal offline should not be permitted online, but added that deciding when to remove videos which were legal but could be considered potentially harmful was a greater issue facing the tech industry.

“Drawing a line on content that should be removed isn’t always clear. For example, as communities are working to address the issue of gang violence, we too find ourselves developing the right way to play our part,” he said.

“While some have argued there is no place for drill music on YouTube, we believe we can help provide a place for those too often without a voice.”

“To strike this balance, we work with the Metropolitan Police, community groups and experts to understand local context and take action where needed.

People use music to tell their truths, express frustrations, find support and connect with each other. Those voices should not be silenced in sweeping rules to eradicate the few Ben McOwen Wilson, YouTube

“People use music to tell their truths, express frustrations, find support and connect with each other. Those voices should not be silenced in sweeping rules to eradicate the few.”

In a Government White Paper published earlier this year, proposals were put forward that require tech firms to take responsibility for their users and their safety, as well as the content that appears on their services.

Mr McOwen Wilson said it was crucial that regulators and tech firms worked together to establish new guidelines around what did and did not make uploaded content acceptable.

“While it’s easy to ban content like pornography on YouTube, drawing the line when it comes to controversial opinions is often much harder,” he said.

“Our philosophy of openness means that, within the bounds of our rules, we will allow different points of view to be heard. even when they might be contentious. That’s why we need to work together – companies, the Government and communities – to agree on clear and reasonable principles for this complex challenge.”

Supporting openness online does not mean anything goes; it means we give people a voice to succeed, share and thrive within the boundaries of safety Ben McOwen Wilson, YouTube

Mr McOwen Wilson admitted that YouTube was “not in the right place” five years ago to handle the number of people trying to misuse the site, but said while it is still not perfect, it has made significant progress in policing content uploaded to the site.

“In the first quarter of 2019, YouTube removed 8.3 million videos that violated our guidelines, and 77% of those videos were flagged by machines, the majority of which were removed before a single view,” he said.

“Supporting openness online does not mean anything goes; it means we give people a voice to succeed, share and thrive within the boundaries of safety.

“It’s time to shed light on the cultural capital that’s at stake.

“Let’s find the balance that will enable Britain’s creative talent to stay on the cutting edge of culture. I’m ready to get to work and make YouTube a part of the solution.”

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