Meaningful transparency, debunking false information, acting against repeat spreaders of misinformation, and extending efforts to languages other than English are among the solutions that a group of more than 80 fact-checking organisations from across the world, including India, proposed in an open letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki.
YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing platform and second-most visited website after Google Search, has been plagued with misinformation issues for years. While the company has made efforts to tackle this problem by banning anti-vaccine content, promoting videos made by authoritative sources, and constantly expanding its misinformation and election misinformation policies, the fact-checkers say that the “current measures are proving insufficient.”
“As an international network of fact-checking organizations, we monitor how lies spread online — and every day, we see that YouTube is one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide. […] What we do not see is much effort by YouTube to implement policies that address the problem. On the contrary, YouTube is allowing its platform to be weaponized by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others, and to organize and fundraise themselves,” the letter stated.
What should YouTube do?
- Be transparent about moderation decisions and support independent research: The fact-checkers want YouTube to “support independent research about the origins of the different misinformation campaigns, their reach and impact, and the most effective ways to debunk false information.” They also want the platform to publish its full policy regarding moderation of disinformation and misinformation including details of the use of artificial intelligence behind this.
- Provide context and debunks: Not only should YouTube remove violating content, but should also provide context and offer debunks that are clearly superimposed on the violating videos. “That only can come from entering into a meaningful and structured collaboration taking the responsibility and systematically investing in independent fact-checking efforts around the world that are working to solve these issues, ” the fact-checkers wrote.
- Act against repeat offenders: The fact-checkers want YouTube to act against repeat offenders that produce violating content, particularly those monetising that content on and outside the platform, the fact-checkers submitted. This can be done by preventing YouTube’s recommendation algorithm from promoting content from such sources, the fact-checkers suggested.
- Extend efforts to more languages: All current and future efforts against misinformation should be extended to languages other than English and YouTube must provide country and language-specific data on its efforts, the fact-checkers proposed. The fact-checkers wrote in their letter that many of the misinformation videos “remain online today, and they all went under the radar of YouTube’s policies, especially in non-English speaking countries and the Global South,” highlighting the problem of content moderation in non-English speaking countries, a problem that plagues Facebook as well.
Surfacing fact-checked information is more effective than deleting content
While criticising the efforts made by YouTube, the fact-checkers wrote:
“Your company platform has so far framed discussions about disinformation as a false dichotomy of deleting or not deleting content. By doing this, YouTube is avoiding the possibility of doing what has been proven to work: our experience as fact-checkers together with academic evidence tells us that surfacing fact-checked information is more effective than deleting content. It also preserves freedom of expression while acknowledging the need for additional information to mitigate the risks of harm to life, health, safety and democratic processes. And given that a large proportion of views on YouTube come from its own recommendation algorithm, YouTube should also make sure it does not actively promote disinformation to its users or recommend content coming from unreliable channels.” (emphasis ours)
Signatories from India
Among the more than 80 signatories of the open letter, the following ten are from India
- BOOM: “In the absence of a focussed programme by YouTube in India, it is difficult for fact-checkers to identify active channels that spread disinformation as a lot of them thrive in Hindi and other regional languages,” Jency Jacob, managing director at BOOM, told Economic Times. “Religion-based hate propaganda, love Jihad videos, polarizing videos based on twisting history thrive on the platform with no filter and receive no attention from the media,” he added.
- Newschecker: Ruby Dhingra, managing editor and head of Newschecker alleged that YouTube promoted videos that have the most engagement over fact-checked videos. “Which is why, videos containing misinformation, which spread like wildfire tend to get further amplified. At the end of a video, users are given a watch next option which only considers relevance to the previously watched content which could contribute to users getting influenced by videos that are not always based on facts,” she told ET.
- Factly: Factly founder Rakesh Dubbudu pointed towards an India-focused issue: “One other additional problem is around videos of fraudulent schemes. There are videos circulating of similar-sounding government schemes to fleece people for jobs etc. In a market like India, where welfare is a big thing, this is a big concern,” he told ET.
- Fact Crescendo
- India Today Group
- The Healthy Indian Project/THIP Media
- The Logical Indian
- The Quint
- Vishvas News
How bad is the misinformation problem on YouTube?
“The world has seen time and time again how destructive disinformation and misinformation can be for social harmony, democracy, and public health; too many lives and livelihoods have been ruined, and far too many people have lost loved ones to disinformation,” the fact-checkers wrote while pointing to a few examples:
- The riot in the US Capitol last year: “From the eve of the U.S. presidential election to the day after, videos supporting the “fraud” narrative were watched more than 33 million times,” fact-checkers noted.
- An international misinformation movement that started in Germany, jumped to Spain and spread through Latin America promoted false COVID-19 cures, rejected face masks and even denied the pandemic.
- Greek and Arabic videos encouraged people to boycott vaccinations or treat their COVID-19 infections with bogus cures.
- YouTube videos have been promoting false cures for cancer for years
- Videos amplifying hate speech against vulnerable groups in Brazil
- Videos in the Philippines denying human rights abuses and corruption during the Martial law years are being used to popularise the late dictator’s son, one of the candidates in the 2022 elections
- Unsubstantiated accusations of fraud in Taiwan’s last elections
- YouTube Says It Will Demonetize “Low-Quality” Videos Targeted At Kids, Here’s What This Means
- Facebook, Google, TikTok, And Twitter Make Commitments To Tackle The Abuse Of Women On Their Platforms
- Christchurch Attacker Was Radicalised On YouTube: Inquiry By NZ Govt
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