YouTube announced with great fanfare this week that it was going to “remove misleading videos about the outcome of the election.” The justification being that the company would remove election-related content that violates its community guidelines prohibiting “spam and scams.” This new policy earned YouTube plaudits in much of the mainstream press and scorn among the MAGA hucksters who need a street corner to hawk their wares.
There’s just one problem.
The whole thing is a performative charade.
In this kabuki play, YouTube executives wave their hands in the air insisting that they aren’t responsible for our crumbling political disinformation ecosystem like that dastardly Mark Zuckerberg. And the MAGAs get to pout and posture about how, even though they are 100 percent #winning all the time, they’re losing again because the elites are just so unfair!
And in the background, nothing really changes
The YouTube gremlins are engaged in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that no human or algorithm is capable of winning without embarking on a rapaciously indiscriminate censorship regime that nobody actually wants.
Because the reality is that YouTube “removing misleading videos about the outcome of the election” is no more possible than Canada banning the word aboot or Coachella barring illicit drug use. Misleading videos are the lifeblood of both the platform and the conservative entertainment complex. Neither is going anywhere.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s just take a penny tour of a few of my favorite “news” pages on the world’s largest video streaming surface.
We begin with Right Side Broadcasting News whose videos are getting anywhere from 30,000 to 2.1 million views a pop. This outfit is the official YouTube channel for the “March for Trump.” That march, according to the first sentence from the first rally speaker in the first video that I clicked on exists “For the president we just re-elected Donald J. Trump. Because they don’t have rallies for losing candidates.”
Sounds like some misleading election information to me!
The “news reporter” in that very first video called the state of Michigan “the leader of the voter fraud in America” and interviewed a man who claimed to have “watched thousands of illegal ballots get counted.” This is just one of several videos from the March for Trump bus tour that Right Side Broadcasting News “covers” as one of the tours two media partners.
They other partner is Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast which also streams on YouTube and has previously had an episode removed from the platform over violent threats against Anthony Fauci. So, you know, not a place that’s on the up-and-up.
I fast-forwarded to a spot at random in the most recent video on the site and the first thing I saw was an interview with failed Pennsylvania GOP house candidate Sean Parnell about a recently rejected request that the courts throw out all of the mail-votes in the state of Pennsylvania.
In sum: RSBN and Bannon’s War Room have explicitly aligned themselves with an effort to spread false propaganda about the election. So it seems like they would have been prime candidates for action ahead of YouTube’s new hardline policy on election fraud misinformation, right?
And yet: There they are. Loud and proud, like Baga Chipz strutting her tuppence down the runway in Drag Race UK.
Elsewhere on the YouTube dial, the story is the same. On NTD America—the “news” home of the Falun Gong / New Tang Dynasty, which also runs the Epoch Times—the most recent video is titled “Biden Inauguration prep rejected by committee; lawmaker threatens to subpoena Dominion CEO.”
Before getting to the beef of that “news,” NTD plays an ad about how farting can help you lose weight. (Silver lining for Rudy!) The subsequent news is itself a big bottom burp, “reporting” that Dominion machines switched 6,000 votes in Michigan from Biden to Trump (this was corrected during an audit, Trump lost Michigan by 154k votes) and covering the possibility that Georgia, which has certified the election results for Biden, might send a separate state of electors to Congress nullifying Biden’s win.
Some of NTD’s prior breezers include coverage of a “Stop The Steal” rally, a report on an “expert” saying that 289,000 ballots are illegal, and a report claiming that Georgia lost ballot records. At the time of writing, 8 out of the last 10 NTD videos were about the supposed voted fraud.
Over on Newsmax’s YouTube page, a recent video features Arizona GOP Chair Kelli Ward saying that the election “has been attempted to be stolen from President Trump.” There’s another video with Dinesh D’Souza once again explicitly calling for state legislatures to overturn the result. There’s also recently pardoned Roger Stone saying “there’s not only compelling but overwhelming evidence of voter fraud at two levels. Old fashioned ‘urban-type’ fraud of manipulating ballots . . . And then there appears to be very substantial evidence of cyber manipulation of the vote.”
This last claim is in direct and explicit violation of YouTube’s stated ban on information that claims a presidential candidate won the election due to widespread software glitches.
None of this is “news” in any meaningful way and all the videos remain on YouTube’s site without issue.
And the story is the same on other pages that don’t even pretend to be news.
Ali Alexander né Akbar, the scam artist who has been at the center of the “Stop the Steal” effort, has a YouTube page which features documentary-style footage of him appearing at rallies demanding that the election be overturned. Two months ago Ali released a video that analyzes Joe Biden’s body language to diagnose him with Parkinson’s Disease. It has been viewed half a million times. I will not link to it.
You may remember Eric Metaxas—the MAGA Scholar who, after a revelation from the Angel of Doral, discovered that his biblical purpose is to get fabulously wealthy fabricating lie upon lie in service of an Orange Idol. He’s also spreading the Word on YouTube. On Metaxas’s page he aired Sidney Powell discussing the systemic fraud in the Dominion machines as well as several videos promoting his “Jericho March” to “pray, fast, and march until the walls of voter fraud and corruption fall down and the American people are allowed to see the truth about this election.”
It doesn’t appear that voter fraud charlatan and attorney Lin Wood has a YouTube page like Ali and Eric, but in searching for his page one of the first links I came across was “Cubbies Edits.”
Cubbies entire account appears dedicated to fabricated voter fraud claims.
Here is the deal:
I found all of the above videos with almost no effort whatsoever. I barely had to sift through anything. It did not take a fancy machine-learning algorithm or a team of low-paid moderators in a cubicle farm to find this content. I spent a few minutes on YouTube looking in the most obvious places imaginable and found copious election disinformation.
A thousand conspiracies have bloomed on YouTube and given the sheer scale of the problem and the political and free speech considerations at play, there is absolutely no conceivable way that YouTube is going to stamp this out. Even if they tried. Though, just between us, they don’t seem to be trying that hard.
Or maybe the better way to put it is: They seem to be trying just hard enough to be able to put out a press release saying, See? We tried! But most definitely not hard enough to actually cause any disruptions to the status quo.
And titrating that exact level of effort—enough to look good, but not enough to do anything—can cause all sorts of distortions at the quantum level.
For instance, far-right provocateur Tim Pool tweeted that in a YouTube moderator clarified to him that he can still say “Trump actually won.” Or “the election was stolen.” Or that there was “widespread fraud” you just can’t say all of those things together.
YouTube advises right-wing propagandist Tim Pool on how to spread election fraud conspiracies without any repercussions pic.twitter.com/blF4sp8oh7
— Nathan Bernard (@nathanTbernard) December 9, 2020
The problem here isn’t the platform. Or rather, it isn’t just the platform. YouTube is only as good as people will let it be.
The two big problems are both with people. The people who have an endless appetite for this garbage because they have abandoned the burdens of citizenship in favor of partisan onanism. And the people who have decided that spreading lies for profit is a respectable way to make a living.
Neither of these things are being resolved by a YouTube blog post and some spot checking based on crowdsourced complaints.
There are some things YouTube can do—and don’t get me wrong these changes are good. “Limiting the reach of borderline content.” “Surfacing authoritative information.” These are good and necessary steps.
But as Dr. Ian Malcolm would say: Life finds a way. On the internet, you can just replace “life” with “lies” and get the same result.
Election lies are still finding a way right now on YouTube.
And they are finding it quite easily indeed.