YouTube Wants to Add Their Own Fact-Checking Feature and It's a Terrible Idea

In this era of inconsistently defined “fake news,” where partisan actors see Silicon Valley’s influence as a new means for social control, it should come as no surprise that a billion-dollar online platform like YouTube folds to PR pressure when the outrage mobs start calling for institutional crackdowns against press freedoms. When it comes to their neutrality principles or their partisan prestige, such companies seem to choose the prestige every single time.

After years of Big Tech being subjected to political testimonies, media scrutiny and activist demands for increased gatekeeping of the news — which began after presidential candidate Hillary Clinton credited her loss during the 2016 election to “malicious propaganda” — it was revealed this week YouTube will roll-out new features set to further editorialize the platform in accordance with their mainstream standards. As reported by BuzzFeed News, audiences will now be forced to see “information panels” drafted by YouTube’s “verified fact-checking partners” when searching for videos on “sensitive topics,” according to statements provided by a YouTube spokesperson.

“These panels will show up on pages of search results rather than on individual videos,” the spokesperson claims, noting the feature is currently being trial tested across India and will subsequently be rolled out globally. “To be clear: videos containing misinformation can still appear in the search results, but YouTube will generate these disclaimers when a query involves sensitive topics, with the intent to inform viewers as the company deals with the spread of misinformation on the platform.” 

The feature, currently available to nearly 250 million users, will condemn videos through warnings of “Hoax Alert!” and all-caps “FAKE” to deter users from watching the content. For any common-sense user thinking in the context of medical-lifestyle content (such as the anti-vaccination movement), there’s an argument YouTube has a moral obligation to suppress propaganda harming communities through pseudo-scientific junk. 

When journalist Pranav Dixit asked what kind of content would be flagged, YouTube immediately responded by citing the conflict within India and Pakistan — meaning the site will actively signify which political content is deemed legitimate and certified by their interpretation. 

“As part of our ongoing efforts to build a better news experience on YouTube,” the spokesperson continued, “we are expanding our information panels to bring fact checks from eligible publishers to YouTube.” These approved fact-checking partners officially remain unlisted, providing users with no context as to who is overseeing content as permissible. BuzzFeed claims the platform is using the same fact-checking partners as Facebook, which includes the likes of Snopes, Politifact and, before its termination, The Weekly Standard (a neoconservative magazine with no fact-checking experience). 

It was also revealed this fact-checking is effectively more of a flagging system whereby platform algorithms and site administrators can simply link users to Wikipedia articles on the topics they’re watching as though it’s an adequate form of counter-research. Given this isn’t the first of YouTube’s fact-checking efforts, we’re able to see a pattern of Big Tech platforms allowing reactionary responses to substitute meaningful knowledge. 

In 2018, our publication covered the faux-transparency behind YouTube’s flagging of “state-sponsored content.” This was a policy change wherein the YouTube platform would flag videos as potentially biased if there was knowledge of foreign government funding. This didn’t remove the videos from the public space, but simply branded the video with a warning to inform users of potential conflicts of interests. 

In theory, this isn’t at all objectionable. Users should know how their news is funded. In practice, however, the policy only seemed to flag content from the Russian government, a hot-button target for Neo-McCarthyist talking points in the American discourse, whereas content from Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Britain’s BBC or China’s CCTV remained untouched. This was eventually reversed after several reports noted the inconsistency. 

What remains a problem is their refusal to flag content with private sector conflicts of interest, such as MSNBC, CNN and Fox News, where commercials from military aircraft and weapons manufacturers such as Boeing and Raytheon, Big Pharma, IPS giants and other industries could influence reporting. Even outlets like The Washington Post, owned by Amazon’s billionaire tech leader turned newspaper mogul Jeff Bezos, remain untouched by the flagging system when their Amazon coverage showed a clear potential for conflicts of interest. It’s an old-fashioned interpretation where state funding is a hazard but private funding is just business as usual.

This is the fundamental problem with handing gatekeeping powers to a tech aristocracy. Despite having seemingly biased opinions on the media-political landscape, administrators also seem to have either no knowledge of the landscape they’re cracking down on, no time to issue a careful response, or no interest in serving a community outside their profit interests. These efforts deserve more consideration than a simple link to Wikipedia and a one-word brand fit for SJW cringe compilations starring Ben Shapiro. 

This stunt will only backfire on YouTube as an insufficient amount of context from unaccountable overseers will just drive dangerous radicals further down the hole of reactionary opinions. If the mainstream establishment is suppressing it, they’ll think it must be of serious value. It should be on the users themselves to debunk laughable information and stop it from spreading, limiting enforcement to cases of legitimate harm against people — whether it’s targeted harassment, legitimate radicalization towards violent movements or defamation where lies are proven to harm individuals. Everything else, including heavily disagreeable politics, is just the price of freedom.

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