YouTube will now “fact check” US search queries, expanding a feature tried in other countries last year in an effort to eradicate “misinformation” about Covid-19 – but some netizens are seeing hints of Orwell in the project.
The video-sharing giant rolled out the new feature on Tuesday, announcing that its “fact check information panels” will now appear on American searches, in which “authoritative sources” will show up below the search bar to correct claims that YouTube deems suspect.
“We’re now using these panels to help address an additional challenge: misinformation that comes up quickly as part of a fast-moving news cycle, where unfounded claims and uncertainty about facts are common,” the platform said in a statement, citing unverified claims that Covid-19 is a “bio-weapon” as an example.
Over a dozen “authoritative” third-party publishers will be in charge of judging content – including FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, the Washington Post Fact Checker, and the Dispatch, a self-described conservative outlet – and will append a “relevant fact check article” to the search panel. According to YouTube, the supposed corrections will only show up “when people search for a specific claim,” rather than for entire topics.
Apparently sensing dystopian undertones in the initiative, some netizens were skeptical of the Google-owned monolith, warning that the new feature would be used to crush any narrative that conflicts with the company’s own narrow agenda.
With social media firms increasingly relying on automated systems to flag questionable content – particularly as thousands of workers are furloughed amid the coronavirus pandemic – Google itself warned in March that users might see a spike in videos ‘erroneously’ removed for violating policy, raising questions about who (or what) will manage the new fact check panels.
Others wondered just who decides what counts as an ‘authoritative’ source, given that “fact checking” has devolved into a partisan cottage industry, often putting political point-scoring ahead of the capital-T ‘Truth’ the fact checkers claim to uphold.
“We need someone who is not tainted by politics to fact check the fact checkers,” one user argued.
The project is only new to the US, however, with YouTube introducing the same feature in India and Brazil last year. But the two countries’ experience with the panels has been less than a shining success, doing little to stem near-endless complaints of “fake news” and disinformation propagating across the Indian and Brazilian parts of the web. Though the initiative has been something of a flop in terms of its own stated goals, YouTube nonetheless intends to pour $1 million into the Google News Initiative to “bolster fact-checking and verification efforts across the world,” hoping to bring similarly ineffective and potentially censorious features to millions of additional users.