Google and its video sharing app YouTube outlined plans for the 2022 US midterm elections this week, highlighting the tools at his disposal to curb efforts to curb the spread of political disinformation.
When users search for election content on Google or YouTube, recommendation systems are in place to highlight journalistic or video content from authoritative national and local news sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Univision, PBS NewsHour and local ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates.
In a blog post today, YouTube noted that it has removed “a number of videos” about the US midterm elections that violate its policies, including videos that make false claims about the 2020 election. YouTube’s rules also prohibit inaccurate videos about how voting, videos inciting violence and any other content found to interfere with the democratic process. The platform added that it has issued warnings to YouTube channels that violate the rules related to midterm exams and has temporarily stopped some channels from posting new videos.
Google Search will now make it easier for users to search for election coverage through local and regional news from different states. The company is also rolling out a Google Search tool it previously used that directs voters to accurate information about voter registration and how to vote. Google will work with the Associated Press again this year to offer users credible search results.
YouTube will also direct voters to a voting dashboard and a link to Google’s “how to vote” and “how to register to vote” features. Other election-related features YouTube announced today include voter registration reminders and election resources, informational panels below videos, recommended authoritative videos in “watch next” panels, and a media literacy education campaign with tips on disinformation tactics.
On Election Day, YouTube will share a link to Google’s election results tracker, highlight election night live broadcasts, and embed election results below videos. The platform will also launch a tool in the coming weeks that gives people looking for federal candidates a dashboard that highlights important information, such as what office they’re running for and what their political party is.
With two months to go until Election Day, Google’s announcement marks the tech giant’s latest attempt to prepare for the pivotal moment in US history. Meta, TikTok and Twitter also recently addressed how they will approach the 2022 US midterm elections.
YouTube has come under scrutiny for how it handled the 2020 presidential election, waiting until December 2020 to announce a policy to address the disinformation surrounding the previous month’s election.
Before the rules were introduced, the platform did not remove videos with misleading election-related claims, allowing speculation and misinformation to flourish. This includes a video from One America News Network (OAN) published the day after the 2020 election, claiming that Trump had won the election. The video was viewed more than 340,000 times, but YouTube did not immediately remove it, saying that the video did not violate the rules.
IN a new study, researchers at New York University found that YouTube’s recommendation system was involved in the spread of misinformation about the 2020 presidential election. From October 29 to December 8, 2020, the researchers analyzed the YouTube usage of 361 people to determine whether the recommendation system recommendations on YouTube directed users to false claims about the election in the immediate aftermath of the election. The researchers concluded that participants who were highly skeptical about the legitimacy of the election were recommended significantly more claims related to election fraud than participants who were unsure of the election results.
YouTube dismissed the study in a conversation with TechCrunch, arguing that the small sample size undermines potential conclusions. “While we welcome more research, this report does not accurately represent how our systems work,” YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi told TechCrunch. “We found that the most viewed and recommended election-related videos and channels are from authoritative sources, such as news channels.”
The researchers acknowledged that the number of scam-related videos in the study was low overall and that the data did not take into account what channels participants were subscribed to. Regardless, YouTube is clearly a key vector of potential political disinformation — and one to watch as the US heads into its midterm elections this fall.