Ahead of the midterm elections, disinformation watchdogs say they are concerned that what has been described as an aggressive effort by YouTube to confront misinformation on the Google-owned platform has developed blind spots. In particular, they are worried about YouTube’s TikTok-like service that offers very short videos, and about the platform’s Spanish-language videos.
But the situation is difficult to understand clearly, more than a dozen researchers said in interviews with The New York Times, because they have limited access to data and because examining videos is time-intensive work.
While Facebook and Twitter are closely scrutinized for misinformation, YouTube has often flown under the radar, despite the broad influence of the video platform. It reaches more than 2 billion people and houses the web’s second-most popular search engine.
YouTube banned videos that claimed widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, but it has not established a comparable policy for the midterms, a move that prompted criticism from some watchdogs.
YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi said the company disagreed with some of the criticism of its work fighting misinformation. “We’ve heavily invested in our policies and systems to make sure we’re successfully combating election-related misinformation with a multilayered approach,” Choi said in a statement.
YouTube said that it removed a number of videos that the Times flagged for violating its policies on spam and election integrity and that it determined that other content did not violate its policies. The company also said that from April to June it took down 122,000 videos that contained misinformation.
YouTube committed $15 million to hire more than 100 additional content moderators to help with the midterm elections and the presidential election in Brazil, and the company has more than 10,000 moderators stationed around the world, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss staffing decisions.
YouTube has also struggled to rein in Spanish-language misinformation, according to research and analysis from Media Matters and Equis, a nonprofit focused on the Latino community.
Almost half of Latinos have turned to YouTube weekly for news, more than they have any other social media platform, said Jacobo Licona, a researcher at Equis. Those viewers have access to a profusion of misinformation and one-sided political propaganda on the platform, he said, with Latin American influencers based in countries including Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela wading into US politics.