YouTube’s measures against election disinformation were powerful


YouTube’s tougher policies against election misinformation have been followed by a sharp drop in the prevalence of bogus and misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter, according to a new study released Thursday, highlighting the power of the video service on social media.

Researchers at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics found a significant increase in YouTube videos of voter fraud shared on Twitter immediately after the November 3 election. As of November, these videos consistently accounted for about a third of all election-related video shares on Twitter. The major electoral fraud YouTube channels that were shared on Twitter this month were from sources that had promoted election misinformation in the past, such as Project Veritas, Right Side Broadcasting Network and One America News Network.

But the proportion of electoral fraud allegations shared on Twitter fell sharply after December 8. This is the day YouTube announced it would remove videos promoting the unfounded theory that widespread error and fraud changed the outcome of the presidential election. On December 21, the proportion of fraudulent content on YouTube shared on Twitter had fallen below 20% for the first time since the election.

The proportion declined further after Jan. 7, when YouTube announced that any channel that violated its election disinformation policy would receive a “strike” and that channels that received three in a 90-day period would be permanently removed. On the day of the inauguration, the proportion was around 5%.

The trend was repeated on Facebook. A post-election increase in the sharing of videos containing fraud theories peaked at around 18% of all videos on Facebook just before December 8. After YouTube introduced its stricter policies, the proportion fell sharply for much of the month, before increasing slightly before January. 6 riot at the Capitol. The proportion fell again, to 4% on inauguration day, after the new policies were put in place on January 7.

To reach their conclusions, the researchers collected a random 10% sample of all tweets every day. They then isolated the tweets linked to YouTube videos. They did the same for the YouTube links on Facebook, using a social media analysis tool owned by Facebook, CrowdTangle.

From this large data set, researchers filtered YouTube videos on broad elections, as well as voter fraud using a set of keywords such as “Stop the Steal” and ” Sharpiegate ”. This allowed researchers to get a sense of the volume of YouTube videos on voter fraud over time and how that volume changed in late 2020 and early 2021.

Disinformation on major social networks has proliferated in recent years. YouTube in particular has lagged behind other platforms in cracking down on different types of disinformation, often announcing stricter policies weeks or months after Facebook and Twitter. In recent weeks, however, YouTube has toughened its policies, including banning all anti-vaccine misinformation and suspending the accounts of prominent anti-vaccine activists, including Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said YouTube was the only major online platform with an integrity policy for the presidential election. “We have also created authoritative content for election-related search queries and reduced the spread of harmful election-related disinformation,” she said.

Megan Brown, a researcher at the NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, said it was possible that after YouTube banned the content, people could no longer share the videos promoting voter fraud. It is also possible that interest in electoral fraud theories waned considerably after states certified their election results.

But the bottom line, Brown said, is that “we know these platforms are deeply interconnected.” YouTube, she pointed out, has been identified as one of the most shared areas on other platforms, including in recent content reports published by Facebook and in NYU’s own research.

“It’s an important part of the information ecosystem,” said Brown, “so when the YouTube platform gets healthier, so do others. “

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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