For most of 2017 and into 2018, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter took a beating, both legally and in the court of public opinion, about so-called “fake news” and “fake” or “spam” accounts. Both Facebook and Twitter took very public stands against “fake news,” and vowed to take action. And they have, deleting tens of millions of false accounts (Twitter) and over a billion fake accounts (Facebook).
Throughout all this, another web-based brand under public scrutiny remained relatively quiet about how it would combat these kinds of challenges. Now, though, Google, is making a similar promise on behalf of its subsidiary, YouTube. The video-based social platform is known for having videos on just about any topic imaginable, including topics that some consider taboo or flat out immoral.
Then there’s the proliferation of “fake news” videos that crop up after many public events, full of false statements, fake “experts” and fabricated information. These videos create confusion and function as propaganda for the very actors YouTube — and Google — are promising to restrict.
YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan, told the media his company is “making changes to put more authoritative content in front of people…”
But, what, exactly, does that mean? It’s a question YouTube has yet to answer, and, when it comes to communicating with a frustrated and dubious public, it’s a question that the company will need to answer. While the public may not care exactly how YouTube will be limiting fake news on the platform, people do want to know there’s a plan, and that this plan is underway.
Reporters asked some of those very questions, casting doubt on how the platform will decide, effectively, what is “fake” and what is “authoritative.” One suggestion, according to YouTube, is that the platform will “tweak” its code to favor “more reliable” news outlets. But what, exactly, does that mean, many people are asking. After all, ask any group of ten people to list the most reliable news outlets, and you will get a wide spectrum of answers. Then ask them to make a list of unreliable outlets, and it’s a good bet some “reliable” ones will be on the other guy’s “unreliable” list.
In the end, the communications challenge really facing YouTube is threefold. They need to identify what most users consider fake news, they will need to communicate that they have a specific plan, and they will need to deliver results. And they will need to do all of these in a way that builds trust in the brand among their user base. Otherwise, they will be answering all of the same questions this time next year.