LONDON – YouTube is facing criticism for making it too easy for people to upload violent or sexually explicit content to the Internet after a 25-year-old mother was filmed while being raped.
A three-minute video showing the mother sexually assaulted by three boys after her drink had been spiked was uploaded soon after the incident, which took place in November.
In the clip, which was filmed with a mobile phone, the mother appears to be unconscious, with her head lolling from side to side, as she is repeatedly raped. Her 2-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son are heard crying in the background.
The mother, from South London, told The Sun that she had been put through the ordeal after drinking champagne that had been spiked with a date-rape drug.
"Three boys aged 14 to 16 did it and it was set up by two girls," she said. "They came round with a neighbor I trusted and I had no problems with them coming in for a while."
She said that she opened a bottle of champagne "to be social" and that within seconds of having a glass, she began to feel strange.
A video of the episode was later placed on YouTube, but the clip was quickly taken down after a viewer complained about its graphic nature. It is understood to have been seen 600 times.
"Putting (the video) on the internet was an abomination," the mother said. "I was raped on film, and you could hear my daughter and 4-year-old son crying. I cannot understand how any Web site could show such a thing."
A YouTube spokesman said that the site's rules prohibited content such as pornography and gratuitous violence from being uploaded. When people see content they think is inappropriate, he said, they can flag it and it will be reviewed.
"If the content breaks our terms, then we remove it, and if a user repeatedly breaks the rules we disable their account," the spokesman said.
A source close to YouTube said it was impossible for the site to review every video that was posted because more than 10 hours of content is uploaded every minute.
The source added that trained staff acted quickly to take down inappropriate content when it was flagged.
Since the mother came forward last month, the Metropolitan Police have begun an investigation into the incident and three teenagers -- two aged 16 and one aged 14 -- have so far been questioned.
YouTube has said that it cooperates with police when material relevant to an investigation is posted on the site.
Under UK law, sites that host videos posted by third parties must act "expeditiously" to disable access to them in the event of a complaint in order to avoid any liability that may result from the content appearing.
Lawyers said that in this case, there may be liability that would stem from the publication of obscene material.
"It is extremely difficult for YouTube to control this kind of content because in this instance -- where you have a video that may depict a crime -- there's no technical measure the site can apply that will prevent it being posted in the first place," said Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons.
"The only option would be for them to review every video before it is posted and that is unrealistic. What sites like YouTube need is a good reporting mechanism which enables content to be flagged to the site once it has been posted, and YouTube operates well in this sense."
It is not the first time YouTube has been used as a forum for posting violent content.
Last month, a set of videos appeared on the site which showed students from Hitchin Boys' School, in Hertfordshire, apparently fighting with each other while bystanders looked on and gave them encouragement.
The footage has since been removed.