July 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The world’s largest video platform announced this week that it’s becoming the latest tech giant to attempt to define what constitutes “trusted journalis[m]” for its users, in this case by spending money to promote “authoritative” news sources.
Search giant Google, which owns YouTube, announced Monday that it plans to spend $25 million on a broad-ranging initiative to support news publishers worldwide in the various technical aspects of publishing, help news organizations build “sustainable video operations” in 20 global markets, and form a working group with various news organizations and experts.
The working group’s stated objective will be to help “develop new product features, improve the news experience on YouTube, and tackle emerging challenges.” Its membership will be expanded in the coming weeks, but early members include the Brazil-based Jovem Pan News, India Today, and the left-wing Vox Media.
The company also detailed a handful of other features to showcase breaking and local news, its investment in “digital literacy” education, and features to provide “context” to news videos, such as attaching to videos links to related videos “from third parties, including Wikipedia and Encyclopædia Britannica.”
These are meant to both help users “choose and make their own judgments about the information they consume along with context to inform their judgments,” YouTube says, as well as address “well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation, like the moon landing and the Oklahoma City Bombing.”
But the detail receiving the most attention is YouTube’s announcement that it is spending money on new features that would “prominently surface authoritative sources,” citing the importance of “[a]uthoritativeness” during “fast-moving, breaking news events.” It did not provide examples of what sources it considers authoritative, or explain its criteria for choosing them.
Apple and Facebook have previously announced similar plans to define for their users what constitutes trustworthy news.
“We remain committed to working with the journalism community to build a more sustainable video ecosystem for news organizations,” Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan and Chief Business Officer Robert Kyncl said. “We know there is a lot of work to do, but we’re eager to provide a better experience to users who come to YouTube every day to learn more about what is happening in the world from a diversity of sources.”
Concerns remain that the outcome will be anything but “better” and “diverse,” however.
“By directly funding news content which it will then deliberately privilege on its platform, YouTube, like other Silicon Valley companies, is moving away from its former status as a neutral platform,” Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari writes. He notes that the news follows Google’s earlier $300 million pledge to fund “quality journalism,” which was similarly vague on how “quality” is determined.
Distrust also comes from numerous accusations that YouTube, like other leading social media platforms and tech companies, censors conservative content and biases its ostensibly neutral content review processes to benefit liberals.
According to an April report from the conservative Media Research Center, YouTube has either deleted or demonetized videos from conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, pro-Donald Trump video bloggers Diamond and Silk, and several pro-gun channels, as well as entirely terminated the accounts of the conservative blog Legal Insurrection and foreign policy commentator Pamela Geller.
Last month, YouTube apologized to the pro-life Abortion Pill Reversal (APR) video channel for temporarily deleting it on the grounds that it distributed “harmful or dangerous content.” Pro-abortion activists claim abortion pill reversal is “junk science” despite having a 68 percent success rate in a recent study, raising questions as to whether YouTube’s planned “misinformation” countermeasures could improperly target videos about accurate information or valid scientific debates.
YouTube has since reversed itself in most of the above cases (except for PragerU and Diamond and Silk), but conservatives also criticize YouTube for empowering the left-wing Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have both falsely labeled mainstream conservative organizations as “hate groups,” to flag “hateful content” for restriction.
Notably, even several leading figures in the mainstream media have cautioned against the current trend of ostensibly-neutral platforms judging acceptable and reliable content for their users. In May, a coalition of media outlets including the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and more condemned Facebook’s new practice of treating ads for political news and analysis the same as ads for political advocacy.
“Democracy depends in part on unbounded competition between different journalistic perspectives and the clash of different judgements and opinions,” New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said in a June speech on journalism and free speech. “History suggests that mainstream news organizations frequently get it right, but also that, not infrequently, it is the outliers who should be listened to,” because public assumptions on who to trust are not always correct.