“YouTube is allowing its platform to be weaponized by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit others, and to organize and fundraise themselves,” the letter reads. “We urge you to take effective action against disinformation and misinformation, and to elaborate a roadmap of policy and product interventions to improve the information ecosystem — and to do so with the world’s independent, non-partisan fact-checking organizations.”
In a call with reporters ahead of the letter’s publication, members of several of the letter’s signatories said they had met multiple times with representatives of YouTube and corporate sibling Google to discuss working together to combat misinformation, but said the company’s commitments were still falling short.
“Nothing moves, nothing changes,” said Cristina Tardáguila, founder of Brazilian fact-checking organization Agencia Lupa and senior programming director at the International Center for Journalists, during the call. “I think the huge difference here … is that it’s time to actually heavily pressure YouTube. They’ve been around for a long time.”
In a statement to CNN Business about the letter, YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez called fact checking a “crucial tool” but “one piece of a much larger puzzle to address the spread of misinformation.”
“Over the years, we’ve invested heavily in policies and products in all countries we operate to connect people to authoritative content, reduce the spread of borderline misinformation, and remove violative videos,” Hernandez said. “We’ve seen important progress, with keeping consumption of recommended borderline misinformation significantly below 1% of all views on YouTube, and only about 0.21% of all views are of violative content that we later remove. We’re always looking for meaningful ways to improve and will continue to strengthen our work with the fact checking community.”
But the group of fact checkers say they want YouTube to create a more clear and consistent system for working with fact-checking organizations. The letter calls on YouTube to “publish its full moderation policy regarding disinformation and misinformation, including the use of artificial intelligence and which data powers it.”
“YouTube’s focus should be on providing context and offering debunks, clearly superimposed on videos or as additional video content,” it states. “That only can come from entering into a meaningful and structured collaboration … and systematically investing in independent fact-checking efforts around the world.”
The letter’s signatories comprise fact-checking organizations from more than 46 countries, including Africa Check, the Philippines’ Rappler; France’s Science Feedback; India’s Factly; Colombia’s Colombiacheck; and FactCheck.org and The Washington Post Fact-checker from the United States. The letter specifically calls out shortcomings in YouTube’s ability to moderate non-English-language content, and raised concerns about the cross-border spread of misinformation.
“We would like YouTube to be really serious about languages other than English, countries other than the United States,” Carlos Hernández-Echevarría, head of public policy and institutional development at fact checking and social media verification nonprofit Maldita. (YouTube’s Hernandez said the platform enforces its policies globally, and that its systems work to reduce potentially violative content and promote authoritative content around the world.)
The letter also calls on YouTube to take action against accounts whose content is repeatedly flagged as misinformation. Proposed actions include removing such accounts’ ability to monetize that content through ads or to point viewers toward outside payment platforms, and ensuring YouTube’s algorithm doesn’t promote misinformation.
The letter’s signatories said they hope to meet with Wojcicki to discuss implementing their suggestions to “make YouTube a platform that truly does its best to prevent disinformation and misinformation being weaponized against its users and society at large.”