YouTube Scratches the Fake News Itch

When news is breaking, we often follow it, not on live television or even on a dedicated news website like CNN. Before the professional journalists can get to it, we’re often watching amateur video coverage uploaded to YouTube or Twitter. Close on the heels of the live footage comes, of course, video commentary. 

One thing which has become increasingly clear over the last couple of years, is that the “live video” can be fake, and the commentary which follows outright dishonest. Wait, how can video be fake? Well it can simply be mislabeled, or misleadingly labeled; sure, it’s video, but not necessarily video of what it claims to be (even if it’s endorsed by the President of the United States).

And of course the spate of YouTube videos claiming that victims of catastrophes — for example, survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting  are paid performers (“crisis actors“) are dishonest, and for the most part maliciously so.

Just as most brands prefer not to have their pre-roll precede pro-ISIS videos; their in-stream ads feature in pornographic content; their display ads ornament Russian propaganda; or their bumper ads punctuate paeans to white supremacism  so they probably would wish to avoid the appearance of sponsoring irresponsible and often dangerous falsehoods.

Which is a long way of saying that a commercial as well as an ethical incentive might underlie YouTube’s latest move to protect users from “fake news.” 

Of course, “cracking down” on such videos is easier said than done on a channel which publishes some 300 hours of content every minute. And indeed a crack down is precisely not the plan. Rather than deleting dishonest news videos and closing the accounts which routinely publish them (and many of those accounts are very easily identified), YouTube will seek to wrap the nonsense in a protective shroud of “authoritative” coverage.

YouTube has said that its recommendation engine will now show news-related search results from more reliable sources. A text-based panel will appear at the top of search results around breaking news, directing users to mainstream coverage and reminding them that story is developing. In a long-term move, YouTube plans to invest $25 million on grants to news organizations and recruiting more journalists in-house.

YouTube released a statement describing the initiatives.

Meanwhile, it seems, the channels which specialize in false reporting — some with millions of followers, and thus hardly underground — will sail on unchallenged.  Beware brands: it’s still not safe out there.

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