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Factcheckers send open letter to YouTube over 'destructive' misinformation on the platform

The open letter is addressed to YouTube’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki from over 80 fact-checking organisations around the world.

Image: Shutterstock

FACTCHECKING ORGANISATIONS AROUND the world, including The Journal, have called on YouTube to take further actions to stem the amount of disinformation being spread on the platform.

In an open letter to the platform’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, over 80 factchecking organisations have called for the company to take at least four steps to stop YouTube from being “one of the major conduits of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide”.

“It’s been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic started. 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,” reads the open letter.

The group says that while it sees concern among the global factchecking community, it does not see any efforts being taken by YouTube to tackle misinformation being spread on the platform.

“On the contrary, YouTube is allowing its platform to be weaponised by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others, and to organise and fundraise themselves. Current measures are proving insufficient.

That is why we urge you to take effective action against disinformation and misinformation, and to elaborate a roadmap of policy and product interventions to improve the information ecosystem – and to do so with the world’s independent, non-partisan factchecking organisations.

Particular examples of misinformation spread on YouTube included how 33 million people, from the eve of the US presidential election until the day after, watched YouTube videos supporting the election fraud narrative.

Misinformation on Covid-19 is also highlighted in the open letter, citing how conspiracy theories on the pandemic spread from Germany to Spain and then through Latin America.

The group have said that while there is rampant misinformation in English-speaking countries, it becomes worse in non-English speaking countries and in the Global South.

While the group says it is good to see YouTube take some steps to address issues of misinformation recently, it notes that the steps are not working to stop the flow of misinformation on the platform.

“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,” reads the open letter.

In the letter, the group proposes that YouTube take several actions including being more transparent about disinformation and taking action against those who repeatedly spread misinformation.

The letter also details how YouTube should focus more on providing context and debunks, rather than simply deleting videos. 

The group is also seeking for YouTube to extend their efforts against misinformation in more languages than just English and for it to provide country and language-specific data, as well as an effective transcription service.

“We hope you will consider implementing these ideas for the public good and to make YouTube a platform that truly does its best to prevent disinformation and misinformation being weaponised against its users and society at large,” reads the letter.

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“We are ready and able to help YouTube. We wish to meet with you to discuss these matters and find ways forward on a collaboration and look forward to your response to this offer.”

Youtube response

In a statement to The Journal following the publication of the open letter, YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez said that fact-checking is a “crucial tool” to help viewers make informed decisions, but says that it is only a “piece of a much larger puzzle” to address misinformation.

Hernandez said: “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.”

Hernandez says that YouTube is looking for “meaningful” ways to improve and that they will strengthen their work with the factchecking community.

The open letter can be viewed here.

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