YouTube Removes 30 Music Videos for 'Gestures of Violence'

More than 5,000 drill musicians have signed a petition to stop YouTube from banning the videos

YouTube has removed 30 music videos at the request of UK police, sparking online petition and protest. Credit: sub job/Rex/Shutterstock

YouTube has removed more than 30 music videos, concentrated in one genre, after British police blamed them for inciting murder and violent crime.

The decision came after Cressinda Dick, commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police Service, said in a public radio interview earlier this month that drill music – a subset of rap and trap whose name comes from slang for automatic weapons – specifically promotes and glamorizes violence, with lyrics that describe stabbings, gang fights and violence against women with “great detail, joy and excitement."

"Extreme violence against women is often talked about," Dick added. "Most particularly, in London we have gangs who make drill videos and in those videos, they taunt each other. They say what they’re going to do to each other and specifically what they are going to do to who."

In the last two years, the police force has flagged 50 to 60 music videos on YouTube’s platform that they claim help sparked violence in the UK, which has seen a nationwide surge in knife crime. (London’s murder rate rose by 44 percent in 2018.) According to the BBC, YouTube has now complied with requests to take down around half of the clips that the police force deemed excessively violent.

"The gangs try to outrival each other with the filming and content – what looks like a music video can actually contain explicit language with gangs threatening each other," Mike West, detective superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, told British news outlets. "There are gestures of violence, with hand signals suggesting they are firing weapons and graphic descriptions of what they would do to each other."

But the backlash from musicians and fans, who allege that the videos reflect personal experiences rather than promote violence, has been swift. More than 5,000 drill musicians have signed an online petition protesting YouTube’s decision to ban the music. Pressplay, a company that promotes drill music videos, said on Instagram that its representatives met with YouTube last week and learned that "police have forced YouTube" to scrub the videos because of "what’s happened lately" – likely alluding to London’s spate of violent crimes and high-profile criminal court cases this year, which included a teenage rapper being sentenced to life in prison for stabbing another person to death.

The timing is curious. YouTube’s actions, though driven by outside pressure, will doubtless contribute to the swirling debate about censorship in the music business that Spotify brought on, earlier this month, by announcing a hateful content and conduct policy and scrubbing R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from its promoted playlists. Apple Music and Pandora made similar moves. Yet the response has been so blistering that Spotify reversed course last week and put XXXTentacion back on its playlists – leaving the industry in even more uncertainty as to how to deal with music, or artists, associated with violent or immoral behavior.

When asked whether YouTube Music, YouTube's new subscription streaming service, would consider implementing a policy around hateful content or conduct, head of the service Lyor Cohen said to Rolling Stone that "internal discussions" around that matter are still ongoing.

A YouTube spokesperson told Rolling Stone: "We have developed policies specifically to help tackle videos related to knife crime in the UK and are continuing to work constructively with experts on this issue. We work with the Metropolitan Police, The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Home Office, and community groups to understand this issue and ensure we are able to take action on gang-related content that infringe our Community Guidelines or break the law. We have a dedicated process for the police to flag videos directly to our teams because we often need specialist context from law enforcement to identify real-life threats. Along with others in the UK, we share the deep concern about this issue and do not want our platform used to incite violence." The spokesperson added that in some instances, videos may not carry overt threats or glorification of violence, but police can provide local context to YouTube that shows how they may be more incendiary than they seem.