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8/24/15

Social Media: YouTube's Battle Against ISIS - by Jaweed Kaleem

On a Thursday night late last fall, after leaving the Manhattan office where he works as a digital products specialist, Aman Ali -- a well-known comedian in American Muslim circles -- received an unusual email from YouTube.

“We need you,” read the note, which invited Ali to the company’s sprawling, 41,000-square-foot production facility in Los Angeles and promised a free flight and two nights in a hotel. “Muslim community leaders [are] struggling to have their voices heard against the overwhelming extremist and bigoted content currently surfacing the web.”

The words “Islamic State” appeared nowhere in the note asking Muslims like Ali to “change the discourse,” but the message was clear. The terrorist organization's vast media arm, with its slick recruitment videos, was winning the propaganda war. Muslims needed to figure out a way to fight back and “get your voices heard.”

\YouTube, facing pressure after unwittingly hosting execution clips before the company could realize and take them down, was offering its helping hand.

Nearly two months later, on a Saturday in January, about 70 Muslims arrived at a closed-door meeting at YouTube’s studios. They comprised a who’s-who of imams, scholars, activists, Muslim vloggers and entertainers from across the U.S. Many had witnessed extremism first-hand, such as imam Suhaib Webb, who was the face of the Boston Muslim community in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. For nine hours, experts, many of them Muslims, briefed participants and brainstormed how to combat online extremism.

Imams were paired with entertainers; scholars were seated with a few of YouTube’s non-Muslim power users, who peppered the crowd and gave tips on how they had built up millions of subscribers with pop culture commentary. Mimicking a tech startup camp, attendees broke into small groups to debate what technologies and strategies worked best.

YouTube's Battle Against ISIS

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