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Fact-checkers accuse YouTube of aiding false information spread, propose four-point solution

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Fact-checkers around the globe have accused video and social media platform, YouTube, of laxity in curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation.

The fact-checkers, under the aegis of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), said the platform has lent itself as ‘one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide.’

In an open letter to YouTube’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Susan Wojcicki, IFCN signatories, Dubawa inclusive, noted that the platform has been exploited by spreaders of false information.

“As an international network of fact-checking organisations, we monitor how lies spread online and everyday, we see that YouTube is one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide. This is a significant concern among our global fact-checking community, “ the letter reads.

“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. Current measures are proving insufficient” it added.

Following the spike in the spread of misinformation triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, social media platforms have joined the fight against misinformation. Facebook, which has long been in the fight against misinformation, said in 2021 that it removed about 18 million COVID related misinformation published on its platform. 

YouTube has also made efforts to curb the spread of misinformation using its 4Rs principles but IFCN still believes this is not enough as conspiracy groups have in the last year been thriving and collaborating on the platform across borders.

“In the last year we have seen conspiracy groups thriving and collaborating across borders, including an international movement that started in Germany, jumped to Spain and spread through Latin America, all on YouTube. Meanwhile, millions of other users were watching videos in Greek and Arabic that encouraged them to boycott vaccinations or treat their COVID-19 infections with bogus cures. Beyond COVID-19, YouTube videos have been promoting false cures for cancer for years.

“In Brazil, the platform has been used to amplify hate speech against vulnerable groups, reaching tens of thousands of users. Elections are not safe either. In the Philippines, false content with over 2 million views denying human rights abuses and corruption during the Martial law years are being used to burnish the reputation of the late dictator’s son, one of the candidates in the 2022 elections.  

“In Taiwan, the last election was marred by unsubstantiated accusations of fraud. The whole world witnessed the consequences of disinformation when a violent mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol last year. From the eve of the U.S. presidential election to the day after, YouTube videos supporting the “fraud” narrative were watched more than 33 million times.”

The network believes surfacing fact-checked information is more effective than deleting false content as it preserves freedom of expression while acknowledging the need for the spread of the right information. 

Seeing a large proportion of views on YouTube come from its own recommendation algorithm, IFCN says YouTube should make sure it does not actively promote disinformation to its users or recommend content coming from unreliable channels. 

IFCN signatories note that 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”.

Proposing a 4-point solution, the network wants YouTube to commit to meaningful and transparent  efforts about disinformation on its platform, provide context and offer debunks, act against repeat offenders and extend current and future efforts against disinformation and misinformation in languages other than English. 

The network seeking collaboration said it is ‘ready and able to help YouTube…to discuss these matters and find ways forward on a collaboration and look forward to your response to this offer’.

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