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Fact checkers say YouTube is not doing enough to tackle misinformation

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An open letter from 80 fact-checking organisations has called on YouTube to ramp up its efforts to tackle “problematic” misinformation.

The campaign effort, which is led by Full Fact, alleges that the video-sharing platform is particularly rife with Covid-19 misinformation that encourages people to boycott vaccinations or treat the virus with bogus cures. YouTube has also been used to promote false cures for cancer for a number of years.

The issue is not limited to YouTube: a report from June 2020, soon after the pandemic began, estimated that 90.6 per cent of reported misinformation relating to Covid-19 remained visible online with no warnings attached.

“YouTube has recently framed discussions about disinformation as a false choice between deleting or not deleting content, avoiding the possibility of surfacing fact-checked information, which has been found to be more effective than deleting content and also maintains freedom of expression while mitigating risks of harm to life, health, safety and democratic processes,” Full Fact said.

The body urged YouTube to create a roadmap of policy interventions designed to improve the reliability of the information on the platform.

The UK’s Online Safety Bill will soon oblige companies to regularly share more information about risks to online safety and their plans for mitigating these risks. It will give Ofcom new powers to regulate tech firms including enacting various penalties and punishments for platforms that do not comply. Similar regulations are also being taken forward in the EU and elsewhere.

The open letter to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO, accuses the firm of allowing its platform to be “weaponised by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others” as well as to raise funds for themselves.

“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,” it reads.

Beyond removing content for legal compliance, it also urges YouTube to focus on debunking misleading content by superimposing fact-checked information on top.

Responding to the letter, YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez said the firm had been investing in policies to tackle the spread of “borderline” misinformation.

“Over the years, 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,” she said.

“We’ve seen important progress, with keeping consumption of recommended borderline misinformation significantly below 1 per cent of all views on YouTube, and only about 0.21 per cent of all views are of violative content that we later remove. We’re always looking for meaningful ways to improve and will continue to strengthen our work with the fact-checking community.”

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