YouTube channels ‘hijack’ news genre to influence PH polls – study

MANILA, Philippines — Hyperpartisan channels masquerading as legitimate “news” channels are using online video sharing and the social media platform YouTube, according to findings from researchers at the University of the Philippines (UP). to influence the upcoming elections in the Philippines.

“The Rise of Meta-Partisan ‘News’ Ecosystems on YouTube,” a study by UP researchers Fatima Gaw, Ira Cruz and Luisa Pineda, noted the misinformation spread on the platform by so-called channels. “information” for the 2022 Elections in the Philippines.

“The breadth of our empirical investigation neither confirms nor denies that these ‘news’ videos qualify as ‘news’, but we do point out the increasingly nebulous definitions of ‘news’ in contemporary media environments”, the researchers said in their study. .

“Amid declining trust in the media, the pervasiveness of creator culture, and the emphasis on user autonomy in choosing their sources of political information, actors with political interests acquired exploit gray areas to manufacture their own partisan ‘news’ content to counter fair and free democratic discourse,” they added.

From May 2021 to February 2022, researchers sifted through 20,000 videos through the use of keywords (such as “news”, “balita”, among others), social media analysis and discourse analysis to map news channels and understand the social context behind misinformation.

The study identified 124 of 3,453 channels on YouTube linked to the popular public television network (PTV) and Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI), the media network of the president’s longtime friend Rodrigo Duterte, the fugitive pastor American Apollo Quiboloy.

During a #FactsFirstPH briefing on Wednesday, April 14, Gaw said the 124 channels had 500 videos over the past 10 months. “That’s a lot of videos. And I guess every video has, you know, 50,000 multiplied views [by] 500. That’s really a lot,” she said.

The information meta-partisan ecosystem

Based on the results of the study, the algorithm showed that the identified “news” channels are frequently located in “a major community”, which includes the following:

  • Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) news channel
  • People’s Television Network, Incorporated (PTNI)
  • Bangbong Marcos Channel (BBM)
  • Erwin Tufo
  • Studio Toni Gonzaga

Quiboloy's SMNI fuels misinformation and online attacks on government critics

According to the study, the close relationship of the so-called “news” channels with these known YouTube channels, which are either owned by the government or known allies, legitimizes their existence as a “substitute for journalistic reporting” or a “complement politically charged content.

The Youtube recommendation system also recognizes the “high” kinship of the topics, formats and audiences of these “news” channels. This is why they most likely appear next to each other on the platform’s algorithm, the study showed.

Bongbong Marcos networks gain influence in YouTube election discourse – study

“Relevance” of manufacturing on YouTube

In response to YouTube’s system of “rewarding” influence generated by successful creators, these “news” channels use traditional news values ​​to ensure that their “media interest” isn’t just displayed for the public, but also for the platform, the researchers said. .

The study listed some of the techniques that these channels use on the social media platform:

  • “Extend, develop and expose”: the identified channels pick up information provided by the mainstream media, which they also qualify as beneficial to them. They present this in a video and “develop” the subject further.
  • “Reposting and Curating”: Content published by different news outlets is recycled and edited to fit a certain political narrative. In post-production, the collected information is combined with the own content of a certain “news” channel.
  • “Production of ’emotional’ content: By arousing emotions, these ‘news’ channels also influence viewers’ decision-making regarding a certain political issue, while simultaneously encouraging the ‘movement’ of the audience.
Disturbing gray area: presented as “news”

The channels spread misinformation on YouTube through the conventional news styles that viewers are familiar with. By using these conventional reporting styles, they appear to be legitimate and familiar, and seem to have “journalistic authority”, according to the study.

How do these dodgy “news channels” do this? They use audio-visual and text cues, such as a broadcast character generator (e.g. “breaking news” or “news update”), a news crawler, and a journalist voiceover.

Despite the similarities, these YouTube channels are different from legitimate news channels. The headlines of the former are riddled with vulgarity and inconsistency, images are handpicked to discredit the media, speeches and actions of targeted candidates are deliberately distorted and videos are manipulated.

During the #FactsFirstPH briefing, Gaw noted how YouTube creators posing as “news” channels continue to exploit the “troubling” gray area when it comes to defining what news is. .

“It’s this gray area that really troubles us here, and what we want to imbue our new viewers with today are the increasingly nebulous definitions of ‘information’ through the exploitation of political actors to fabricate their own partisan ‘information’ in order to counter freedom and fair democratic discourse,” she said.

“Once that gray area is manipulated or exploited, I think we need to think differently about how we want to approach news creation or news storytelling. We need to move beyond ‘fake news’ because it doesn’t is more of a productive label. We have to recognize that there is a sophistication in the hijacking of the news genre,” Gaw added.

Still no “meaningful” action from YouTube

Gaw noted that YouTube was the largest platform in the Philippines in 2021, and apparently for 2022 as well, surpassing Facebook, hence “the continued scientific interest in interrogating YouTube” regarding the proliferation of misinformation. Such efforts, however, elicited no “meaningful” response from YouTube, she said.

“I don’t think YouTube has done anything meaningful and I’m sorry to say that up front. I think there are more meaningful ways to engage, especially using empirical research like the ours to ponder — not just fact-checking, not just flagging this individual video and deleting it, it’s just one of hundreds,” she said.

“I don’t think we have realized the extent of the problem yet, which is why we are not taking meaningful action…. I think YouTube is like any other channel – as long as there’s no public pressure, they wouldn’t do anything,” Gaw added.

The UP researcher noted that she had researched the Marcos disinformation ecosystem and historical revisionism on YouTube and raised it on the social media platform, but nothing had been done. on this subject.

“There is historical distortion content here and it is racking up views. We pointed them to a list of channels. They did nothing,” she said. (READ: YouTube networks spread propaganda about Marcoses, martial law – study)

Gaw said he thinks YouTube’s decision to ban political ads is “counterproductive…because you’ve taken away the ability to legitimately campaign politically and you’re pushing everyone underground to engage.” in this, you know, malicious and insidious attempt to shape political discourse”.

She also said that the burden of combating misinformation on social media should not rest solely with individual internet users. She also urged non-governmental organizations and other institutions to come forward and help in the fight against misinformation. – Rappler.com

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