YouTube And Fake News
YouTube and its parent company, Google, announced recently that they’re taking steps to ensure the quality of journalism on the platform, primarily through censoring “fake news” and supporting popular news organizations instead.
On Monday, the company said they would make “authoritative” news sources more prominent in their YouTube search engine, due to the supposed spread of misinformation following major tragedies and events.
The company will also show short text previews of news stories in their search query results.
YouTube Is Making Small Changes To Their Format And Algorithms
The company will feature a small description in video captions explaining that as details arise, information is updated and subjected to change.
Their goal is to fight against the “fake videos” that follow natural disasters and other trending stories. For instance, one video attempted to prove things like the Las Vegas shooting was staged through the use of “crisis actors.”
YouTube and Google are updating videos with text versions of popular news stories because of the fact that high-quality video clips take a long time for studios to produce, so as stories are updated, the text will suffice.
It’s part of an attempt to discourage misinformation that typically follows a major event. The executives at Google’s YouTube made the announcement while at their New York offices yesterday.
What Is “Authoritative” And Who Decides Whats “Fake News?”
However, the officials over at YouTube didn’t specify which organizations were “authoritative,” and refused to give a simple list of companies they would promote.
The idea of what constitutes “authoritative” is “fluid” they said, and they wouldn’t simply boil down the search results to what’s the most popular.
According to the Financial Post, around 10,000 employers at Google are monitoring the search results, to determine what is an “authoritative source” and a “real news story (2).”
Alexios Mantzarlis, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute, who worked with people from the Associated Press, said that it was a step in the right direction toward sharing actual quality news (2).
Alexios, however, said he worried about YouTube featuring “fakes news videos” in the recommendation engine without being searched for (2).
The man added that it would be better if Google used actual people instead of computers to determine what was fake news (2).
He explained, “Facebook was reluctant to go down that path two and a half years ago, and then they did (2).”
YouTube also claims they will spend $25 million over the next few years on challenging misinformation, as well as providing staff and production improvements to organizations that need it (2).
Additionally, YouTube states they will begin testing their plan to counter fake news and misinformation videos regarding historical incidents including the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 as well as the moon landing.
The moon landing, in particular, is frequently the subject of conspiracy theories and other alternative viewpoints.
However, some critics claimed that is a step toward authoritarianism and censorship because now, an individual enterprise is deciding what is and isn’t “fake news.”
While on the surface the idea of getting rid of “fake news” is a good idea, the risk here is the potential for abuse, monopoly, and censorship.
The Potential For Censorship
The issue is the monopolization of information, with one company, funded by corporations and other advertisers and lobbyists, who privilege establishment-approved information over others.
Back in 2016, YouTube began demonetizing videos all over YouTube, with some of the videos demonetized not having any controversial subject matter or violations of YouTube guidelines (3).
In October 2016, Phillip De Franco, one of YouTube’s most prominent content creators, screenshotted an image of his account, showing that his latest video had been demonetized (3).
While their intention to stop “misinformation” is noble and no doubt, a result of good intentions, the truth is that it takes an authoritarian amount of control to determine what is, and what isn’t “fake news (3).”
The idea of thwarting “fake news” has, thus far, been used to censor conservative and “center”-political content on the platform, with channels such as 1791L becoming completely demonetized (5).
Any content that is even remotely controversial is demonetized.
Under the pressure from their advertisers, who don’t want their products associated with offensive political content, YouTube demonetizes almost anything that may or may not be political or transgressive.
YouTube, CNN, And Advertisers
While, ironically, organizations such as CNN – who broadcast live events during massacres like the Las Vegas shooting last year – feature advertisements every 7 minutes on their platform, profiting from the tragedy through refreshing ad’s and pulling in lots of viewers for advertisers (4).
YouTube’s intention to pull advertisements from potentially controversial content is called, the “Ad-pocalypse,” among YouTubers.
Content creators often point out the hypocritical tendencies of mainstream broadcasters who run advertisements regardless of whether their news stories are offensive or not.
YouTube’s line of reasoning is to make the platform “safer” for younger viewers, but YouTubers claim it’s merely due to ideology (5).
As social media companies grow larger, they have to appeal to a larger number of people.
For that reason, they censor marginally offensive content, but also intriguing, interesting, or enlightening content. Perspectives outside of the status quo are discouraged through demonetization.
And YouTube isn’t the only company to do this sort of thing in recent years, as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have all followed similar paths (3).
With Facebook, in particular, coming under intense scrutiny for supposedly censoring “conservative” content.
Internet marketers have also complained that Facebook has made it more challenging for bloggers.
Social media platforms are want to ensure the “safety” of people who use their product (1). They want to make it comfortable for everyone of all ages to use. Instagram, for instance, censors content that shows nudity, including female nipples (3).
However, they are private companies, so they’re free to do whatever they wish.
Exceptionally, the Supreme Court ruled that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, couldn’t block people on Twitter due to the fact that he holds public office (6).
While it’s unlikely juggernauts like Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, will go down the proverbial tubes anytime soon, what makes them great platforms is the fact that a user can access many kinds of content on them, content that is outside of what is considered “ok” in mainstream culture.
Those who use YouTube for political and news videos are interested in independent journalism and an outsider perspective, not to hear the same narrative pandered by CNN and Fox News.
What made the internet and platforms such as YouTube so special is the lack of censorship and the freedom for self-expression. Anybody could say anything and have any political view.
Due to pressure from advertisers, however, YouTube has to tow the line and censor any potentially offensive content, for fear of losing money. To some, it seems like just an excuse to censor views they don’t agree with (5).
This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. It’s a natural part of the growth of a company. And It’s a neverending cycle.
Cable companies like HBO and PBS aren’t as popular as they once were due to not only the advent of streaming, but because of the commercials, the regulations, limits on free-expression, and the form of the platform itself, allowing YouTube and Netflix to thrive.
Netflix, in particular, is home to some of the most popular and innovating series including Game Of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Orange Is The New Black, House Of Cards and Stranger Things.
Netflix gives their creators the freedom to create whatever they want. They seem to understand how important it is to allow artistic liberty. And that’s what makes content and art interesting.