Misinformation on YouTube

2022-02-05 by EPR Staff

Online misinformation and false news stories have been spreading quickly in the last few years, with various bad actors trying to profit from such efforts. A number of platforms have been involved in the discourse regarding misinformation, and plenty of them have been trying to implement different strategies to help combat the spread of fake news. Misinformation is the deliberate sharing of false information without the intention to cause harm, while disinformation is when false information is shared with the intent to cause harm.

Fact-Checker Letter

According to a recent statement from a global coalition of fact-checkers, the popular video streaming platform YouTube has been one of the big conduits for falsehoods and misinformation. According to the fact-checking organization, the platform is also not doing enough to tackle the spread of misinformation. The information came from a letter that was signed by over 80 different groups, and that talked about the platform giving a voice to groups such as Doctors for the Truth. This group has been spreading misinformation regarding the pandemic, as well as videos supporting fraudulent narratives about the US presidential election.

The letter also states that the platform is used by people as a weapon of manipulation and exploitation against others, while it claims that the organizations spreading such misinformation are organizing and fundraising. The letter urges Youtube to make four different changes to the way it operates. Those changes include doing more to tackle misinformation in other languages aside from English, funding independent research into misinformation campaigns, stopping the promotion of channels that have been spreading misinformation, and showing videos with correct information under those that spread falsehoods.

Non-English Countries

According to the letter from the fact-checking organizations, the biggest region where misinformation is rampantly spreading on YouTube has been the global south. That region includes nations in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The organizations have also challenged the claims that a number of governments and media organizations have made regarding their sharing of correct information.

Toward the end of 2021 the whistleblower Frances Haugen shared copious amounts of data regarding the spread of misinformation, specifically on Facebook. She also talked extensively about her concerns over Facebook’s safety controls in non-English markets. That was one of the key factors that made her decide to go public regarding the issues on the social media platform.

Current Guidelines

The community guidelines on YouTube explicitly state that there’s a ban on sharing “certain types of misleading or deceptive content with serious risk of egregious harm”. This includes sharing content that promotes harmful medical treatments, or that promotes interference in elections. Youtube has also shared a list of the top ten countries where videos with such information have been removed. The list was dominated by countries where English isn’t the native language, such as Brazil, Vietnam, and India. 

Back in October 2020, Youtube attempted to take action against the spread of misinformation about the pandemic, and banned misinformation about the vaccines. These actions were taken soon after Facebook decided to take similar actions on its own platform. In a response to the letter from the fact-checking organizations, a spokesperson for YouTube, Elena Hernandez, stated that the company has been investing in different policies that would quell the spread of misinformation. YouTube has also been noting significant progress with those efforts, as videos containing misinformation are now being recommended to users at rates that are below 1%.