Starting Wednesday (Dec. 9), YouTube said, it will begin removing content promoting conspiracy theories that Trump is the actual winner because voter fraud or “widespread software glitches or counting errors” (for which there is no evidence) swung the election for Biden.
The internet-video giant said it was taking the action now because Dec. 8 marked the safe-harbor deadline for the U.S. presidential election and that, at this point, enough states have certified Biden as president-elect to make the results indisputable. “Given that, we will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, in line with our approach towards historical U.S. Presidential elections,” YouTube said in a blog post.
YouTube noted that news coverage and commentary discussing election fraud or voting irregularities may remain on the service “if there’s sufficient education, documentary, scientific or artistic context.”
“Our main goal going into the election season was to make sure we’re connecting people with authoritative information, while also limiting the reach of misinformation and removing harmful content,” YouTube said.
In the weeks since Biden was announced as the projected winner of the presidential election, Trump has relentlessly pushed unfounded conspiracy theories that the election was somehow “stolen” from him or “rigged.” Trump’s legal team has filed dozens of lawsuits seeking to overturn the results, halt ballot counting or block election certifications, all of which have been dismissed or withdrawn.
Until now, YouTube has not aggressively purged videos falsely claiming the U.S. election was plagued by fraud or other problems. It said its existing policies prohibit content alleging that “widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of a historical U.S. presidential election” — but, according to YouTube, in some cases it has allowed “controversial views on the outcome or process of counting votes” of the 2020 election “as election officials have worked to finalize counts.”
Two weeks ago, a group of Democratic U.S. senators sent a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in which they said they had “deep concern regarding the proliferation of misinformation on your platform during and immediately following the 2020 elections and in light of the upcoming Georgia runoff elections” for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats.
Last month, YouTube enacted a one-week suspension of right-wing channel One America News Network — which has been a mouthpiece for election-malfeasance falsehoods from Trump and his supporters — but YouTube said that was because OANN violated YouTube’s ban on COVID misinformation.
According to YouTube, since September 2020, it has terminated more than 8,000 channels and “thousands of harmful and misleading elections-related videos” for violating existing policies. It also said more than 77% of those videos were pulled before they had accumulated 100 views (but YouTube didn’t reveal how widely others were viewed).
That said, YouTube claimed that “problematic misinformation” has represented only a fraction of 1% of viewing on the platform in the U.S. Moreover, YouTube said that on average 88% of the videos in top 10 search results related to elections came from authoritative news sources like ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News and USA Today.
YouTube also said that on more than 200,000 election-related videos, it has added information panels linking to Google’s election results feature and to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Rumor Control page debunking election integrity misinformation. To date, those information panels have been displayed over 4.5 billion times, per YouTube. Starting Wednesday, that information panel will now link to the the Office of the Federal Register’s 2020 Electoral College Results page.