The pandemic has given YouTube “a chance to show what we’re capable of” when applying its fact-check facilities, Ben McOwen Wilson, YouTube’s regional director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Variety this week. “I feel very proud of the way that throughout the pandemic we were able to continue to remove, at scale, content that violated our community guidelines,” he said.
The fact-check feature is already available in the U.S., Brazil and India, and was introduced in the U.K. and Germany last week. The limited availability of local partners was the main factor in delaying the expansion of YouTube fact check information panels to the U.K., Wilson, who is also managing director YouTube U.K., said. In the U.K. YouTube has now partnered with relevant organizations such as BBC Reality Check, Full Fact, Ferret Fact Service, and FactCheckNI. Fact checks in English may also appear from international organizations from the U.S. and India.
Wilson also spoke about how TikTok can play a greater role in removing harmful content online. TikTok found itself in the hot seat after clips of a man committing suicide on Facebook Live were circulated widely on its platform in recent weeks. “They had a particular issue; their systems were shown to be wanting, very badly wanting,” said Wilson about TikTok. “If it had been any other platform that had the issue that they had, the headlines would have been far, far bigger,” he said. “But I think it is a great wake up call for them to want to be participating in industrywide forums and they will be very welcome at that table.”
In September, appearing before a Parliamentary committee on online harms and disinformation, Theo Bertram, TikTok’s director for government relations and public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the organization had written to the CEOs all the major social media platforms, including YouTube, proposing to work together to remove harmful content.
Wilson said that such partnerships were already in place. “There are a number of working groups across different areas of harm that we and other social media partners have been establishing,” he said. “TikTok is becoming a member of most of those other groups.”
“For sure we will work with others in the industry and with regulators to develop standards and develop best practices around sharing and I think, slightly before TikTok’s time, that we’ve done so around violent extremism, and a very wide range of topics. And I think you should expect us to continue to play a central role in all of the forms that exist around evolving approaches to information sharing.”
“Cobra Kai,” a show created by YouTube that played two seasons on the service, has been acquired by Netflix and the third season will be on the streamer in 2021. “That was a grown-up decision on both sides,” says Wilson. “For us as a platform it probably feels less painful than it does to a BBC or any other broadcaster, because we don’t feel possessive about our content.”
Wilson uses the example of YouTube star Mo Gilligan’s success on Channel 4 and Netflix. “I don’t feel bitter about that; I feel pride in my alumni.”
Elsewhere, YouTube saw a rise in the consumption of health related content during the pandemic, Wilson says. The executive also talked up the range of diverse content on the platform. This is borne out by research from Oxford Economics that found that 71% of users agreed that YouTube is home to diverse content; 76% of the U.K. media and music companies surveyed who use YouTube agreed that the platform encourages diverse creators of content; and 83% of the British media and music companies surveyed who use YouTube agreed that the platform shines a light on undiscovered talent.
In 2019, YouTube’s creative ecosystem supported 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the U.K., and the total contribution of YouTube’s creative ecosystem to the country’s GDP was £1.4 billion ($1.81 billion).
YouTube is used by 96% of online adults in the U.K. each month, and the average online adult in the U.K. watches 46 minutes of YouTube per day, according to statistics released by Comscore.