Fact checkers from around the world have accused video-streaming platform, YouTube, of not taking covid misinformation seriously. In an open letter published by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) on the Poynter Institute’s website, over 50 fact checkers, including 10 from India, urged the Google-owned platform to crackdown on pandemic-related misinformation.
“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 said. “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,” it added.
To be sure, YouTube has published updated policies for covid-19 and vaccine-related misinformation in the past. For instance, in September 2021 the company said that it would ban any videos that include media claiming that vaccines are dangerous and can lead to chronic health outcomes.
“Fact checking is a crucial tool to help viewers make their own informed decisions, but it’s one piece of a much larger puzzle to address the spread of misinformation. Over the years, we’ve invested heavily in policies and products in all countries we operate to connect people to authoritative content, reduce the spread of borderline misinformation, and remove violative videos. We’ve seen important progress, with keeping consumption of recommended borderline misinformation significantly below 1% of all views on YouTube, and only about 0.11% of all views are of violative content that we later remove. We’re always looking for meaningful ways to improve and will continue to strengthen our work with the fact checking community," said Elena Hernandez, a spokesperson for YouTube, in a statement.
However, the IFCN letter claimed that current measures have been “insufficient”, and urged the platform to take “effective action” against misinformation and disinformation. “We are glad that the company has made some moves to try to address this problem lately, but based on what we see daily on the platform, we think these efforts are not working — nor has YouTube produced any quality data to prove their effectiveness,” the letter said. It noted that many videos that violate YouTube’s policies and spread misinformation remain live, especially in non-English speaking countries.
It also asked the company to “elaborate a roadmap of policy and product interventions to improve the information ecosystem”, which involved global fact checking organizations. Indian fact-checking organizations like Factly, Boom, Newsmobile, Vishvas News and more have signed the letter as well.
Further, the letter also says that YouTube should act against repeat offenders who are “constantly flagged” by fact-checkers by preventing its recommendation algorithms from spreading such content. It also asks the platform to fund research into the origins of misinformation campaigns and to focus on offering context and debunks on content rather than just removing content for legal compliance. Some of the solutions proposed by IFCN are steps YouTube already claims to take.
The video-streaming platform isn’t the only one being plagued by misinformation about covid-19 either. Experts have said that social media platform Facebook, short-video platform TikTok and even Google’s Search platform have been instrumental in spreading covid-related misinformation in the past. In August 2021, Facebook said it had removed over 20 million posts spreading covid misinformation from Facebook and Instagram between the start of the pandemic and June.