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While ‘drill’ rap is not the sole cause of a spike in violence in the UK, it glamorises gun and knife crime

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glamorises gun and knife use

After receiving requests from police in London, Google-owned video-streaming platform YouTube has taken down a number of “drill” rap music videos that senior officers had claimed were helping to fuel a spate of violent crime across the UK. This followed a recent uptick in knife and gun crime in London that saw the city’s murder rate surpass that of New York last month, despite Britain’s notoriously restrictive gun laws. Over the course of the past two years, the Metropolitan Police has asked YouTube to remove as many as 60 drill rap videos that it claimed were inciting young men to commit violent crimes against gang rivals. The social media giant is said to have taken down over 30 of these, having discovered they violated its own policies. YouTube is also said to have developed new procedures to help its moderators identify and remove content related to knife and gun crime. But despite its recently-reported action, the platform still hosts numerous drill music videos in which young men, many of whom hide their faces behind masks, can be heard openly rapping about their readiness to resort to violence and willingness to use knives and firearms.

Drill rap videos routinely feature footage of young men posturing in gangs of varying sizes around social housing estates in inner-city locations, where they issue violent threats to their rivals and boast about their connections with the drugs trade, and the sometimes unpleasant manner in which they treat women. Viewers who are not up to speed with many of the slang terms drill rappers use are left in little doubt as to the content of the lyrics that accompany the videos, thanks to many of the artists who appear in them regularly making shooting and stabbing motions with their hands as they rap over sparse, sinister sounding beats. Discussing the threat posed by drill rap music during a radio interview earlier this month, Scotland Yard Commissioner Cressida Dick said social media firms have a responsibility to take down any material that might incite violence, noting: “[The videos] describe stabbing with great detail, and [with] great joy, obscene violence against women.”

Supporters of drill rap, which originates from Chicago, argue it is simply another in a long line of music genres that officials have tried to ban on account of a perceived malign influence on young people. However, it is hard to argue against the fact that few other types of music have been so inextricably linked with gang violence. Even artists from the 1990s golden era of US hip-hop failed to describe knife and gun crime with such casual glee as modern UK drill artists do routinely throughout their material. It is also commonly argued that the young men who make UK drill rap are simply reflecting the lives they and their contemporaries live in their lyrics, and that their art is not one of the many root causes of rising levels of violent crime in Britain. This suggestion would carry more weight if it were not for the fact that a number of young people have lost their lives on the streets of the UK as a result of threats issued in drill rap videos. Where once rivalries between rappers would be played out as much for the entertainment of listeners and fans than anything else, the gang affiliations of many drill artists can lead to situations in which individuals feel it becomes a question of honour and respect to carry out the threats they make in their songs.

This February, teenage rapper Junior Simpson was jailed for life after he and two others were convicted of stabbing 15-year-old Jermaine Goupall to death in South London. A court heard how Simpson had written lyrics describing the circumstances of the attack before it took place, and that Goupall had died following a series of threats issued between rival gangs in online music videos. Earlier this month, two young men who had appeared on popular rap DJ Tim Westwood’s YouTube channel were jailed for murdering a filmmaker. The Old Bailey heard how Devone Pusey, 20, and Kai Stewart, 18, knifed Dean Pascal-Modeste, 22, to death after making threats on drill rap videos. Also this month, it was reported that aspiring rapper Rhyhiem Ainsworth Barton was shot dead after he recorded a rap video during which he challenged a rival group.

To blame the recent spike in violent crime in the UK solely on drill rap would be ridiculous, but it would be equally as thoughtless to argue that the genre does not play a role in glamorising the use of guns and knives, or that it has not been directly linked to incidents in which online threats have resulted in the loss of life. Social media firms have a moral responsibility to offer drill artists freedom of expression as much as they should a legal one to take down material that might incite violence, but in many cases, drill rap videos that remain accessible on YouTube openly promote the use of extreme violence. The social, political and economic drivers behind rising violent crime in Britain are complex, but it would be foolish to ignore the pernicious effect drill rap is having on some young people.

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Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants

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record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins

Police in Malaysia have seized over 27 tonnes of pangolins and their body parts from traffickers running two illicit plants dedicated to the processing of the critically-endangered animal, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

Acting after receiving intelligence, investigators first raided one facility in the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu on 7 February, before later swooping on a warehouse in Tamparuli, nearly 22 miles away from the city.

The massive haul, which is thought to be the largest ever recovered in the country, is estimated to have been worth some 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million) on the black market.

In an operation that exposed the role Sabah plays in the global illegal trade in pangolin parts, police involved in the raids recovered 1,800 boxes containing frozen pangolins, 572 individual frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in the boot of a car, and 361kgs of pangolin scales.

Police also recovered two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying foxes.

A 35-year-old man, thought to be a manager of one of the sites, was arrested following the raids, Traffic said, citing police sources.

The anti-trafficking organisation said it hoped the raids would help lead investigators to the organised criminal syndicates behind both the domestic and international illicit trade in pangolin parts.

Pangolins, which are thought to be the most trafficked mammal on the planet, are estimated to make up around a fifth of the world’s illicit trade in wildlife.

The animals’ scales are in high demand in many Asian countries, where they are used in a range of traditional medicine, while their meat is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian nations.

Many people across Asia mistakenly believe that pangolin body parts contain properties that can cure a number of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Traffic’s Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy said: “Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”

The raids come ahead of this Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, which is intended to raise awareness of how heavily the animal is trafficked.

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Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content

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protect European advertisers from online pirated content

An anti-piracy group has announced a new initiative that is intended to help European brands protect themselves from being associated with pirated content.

Advertising industry organisation the Trustworthy Accountability Group (Tag) yesterday announced Project Brand Integrity, which is intended to alert companies and their advertising agencies when their marketing material has appeared alongside pirated material online.

The new initiative, which is modelled on a similar effort launched in the US that is said to have reduced the number of impressions linked to pirated content by more than 90% over two years, will be operated by Tag in partnership with advertising auditing firm White Bullet, which will monitor and document ads on infringing sites.

After scanning ad-supported infringing sites serving markets in Europe, White Bullet’s technology will identify any ads that appear alongside pirated content, before forwarding that information to Tag, which will contact the advertiser and/or its agency so they can take remedial action.

Mike Zaneis, CEO of Tag, commented: “If you are a brand advertiser, the skull-and-crossbones isn’t just a pirate movie trope. It accurately reflects the toxic danger of associating your brand with stolen content and criminal activities on pirate sites.

“Project Brand Integrity will serve as an early warning system for advertisers and their agencies, so we can alert them when their ads have run near stolen content and help them implement effective safeguards to prevent it from happening again.

“We are delighted to work with White Bullet to jointly enable this program, while advancing the European Commission’s important work in this area.”

The new project forms part of wider drive by major advertisers and their partners to ensure online marketing material does not appear alongside content that could damage brand reputation.

Over recent years, major brands including Unilever, Mars and Verizon have pulled their ads from major video streaming platforms such as YouTube over worries that they were appearing alongside child sexual abuse material, violent drill rap videos and content relating to religious extremism.

Puling its material from various platforms over fears its ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content featuring children in November 2017, Mars said: “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.

“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

YouTube and Google have since boosted their efforts to take down or demonetise inappropriate or questionable content through fear of alienating advertisers.

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers

Two Romanian brothers who trafficked vulnerable young women into Spain and forced them into prostitution have been jailed for a total of 108 years after a court heard they inserted metal balls into their penises in a bid to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,448) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, were sentenced to 55 and 53 years respectively by a Spanish court last month.

Despite the huge amount of money the brothers and their fellow gang members were able to rake in, their victims were paid only around €200 a fortnight after being told they must work off the debt they had built up travelling to Spain.

As well as modifying their penises to cause the women they trafficked as much pain as possible, prosecutors told the court the sadistic siblings sliced one woman’s arm off with a samurai sword, and forced others to eat euro banknotes when they failed to bring in enough money while prostituting themselves.

After forcing the women to wash down the notes with water, the brothers are said to have told them they would be made to eat coins should they fail to make sufficient money in the future.

The pair made victims sell their bodies at a brothel in the northwest town of Oviedo after luring them from their home country of Romania with false promises of well-paid legitimate work.

Once the women arrived in Spain, the brothers stripped them of their travel documents and mobile phones, before beating and raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes.

While serving a previous prison sentence, the brothers sliced holes in their own penises and inserted metal balls into the holes as part of a bid to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and more painful for their partners, the court was told.

As well as being handed lengthy jail terms, the brothers were also ordered to pay their victims large amounts of compensation.

The pair’s lawyers said they both intend to appeal the length of their sentences, having initially denied all of the charges against them, maintaining that the women who accused them of wrongdoing were lying, and were only interested in extracting compensation from them.

If they had been convicted of all the charges they faced, the brothers could have been handed a total of 600 years behind bars.

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