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YouTube shuts off Egyptian blogger's torture videos

Has the YouTube Effect stuck again? Wael Abbas, a well-known online activist in Egypt, says his YouTube video account has been suspended and his Yahoo! e-mail accounts have been shut down. Abbas had this pesky habit, you see, of posting graphic videos showing police brutality, and his site had become one of the most popular blogs in Egypt.

In one prominent incident, Abbas posted a video on his blog of a police officer binding and sodomizing an Egyptian bus driver who intervened in a dispute between police and another driver.

The video was one of the factors that led to the conviction of two police officers, who were sentenced to three years each in connection with the incident.

YouTube wouldn't comment on Abbas's specific case, but a company spokesman told CNN that in general, such graphic videos are a no-no:

YouTube prohibits inappropriate content on the site, and our community effectively polices the site for inappropriate material," the spokesperson said. "Users can flag content that they feel is inappropriate and once it is flagged it is reviewed by our staff and removed from the system within minutes if it violates our Community Guidelines or Terms of Use. We also disable the accounts of repeat offenders."

There are plenty of other video-sharing sites and third-party tools out there for posting viral videos, but Abbas says he's lost his entire archive, the fruit of years of painstaking work. Also this month, Yahoo! accused Abbas of spamming and shut down two e-mail accounts of his.

It's too early to tell if the Egyptian government had a hand in this, in which case we may have another case of U.S. tech companies kowtowing to authoritarian regimes. YouTube has a shadowy history of eliminating objectionable content to preserve market access, and the company isn't fully transparent about how it makes such decisions. So, this is going to remain murky. But I think the lesson to online activists is nonetheless clear: Don't use YouTube, and save your work offline.

UPDATE, Nov. 30, 2007: According to CNN, Abbas's YouTube account has been reactivated. YouTube said in a statement that he is free to upload his videos as long as he does so with enough context to show that he is trying to get an important message across. 

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