YouTube will start labeling videos it identifies as coming from state-funded broadcasters starting today. Under the changes, PBS, for example, would carry a label that states it’s a “publicly funded American broadcaster.” The move will affect a variety of sources and is designed to curb the spread of misinformation. The label will also link to the news publisher’s Wikipedia page. “We’re rolling out this feature to viewers in the US for now, and we don’t expect it to be perfect,” YouTube said in a blog post.
Of particular note, the changes will affect RT. YouTube has become a major platform for the Russian state news organization, and under the new policy, RT’s videos would have a clarifying label that states, “RT is funded in whole or in part by the Russian government.”
RT claims it is the most-watched news channel on YouTube, with over 5 billion combined views based on its 20 or so channels including RT America and RT Sport. RT has been described as Russia’s English-language propaganda outlet that aggressively pushes a pro-Kremlin perspective. US officials have also reportedly accused the network of helping swing the 2016 US election.
On top of the new labels, YouTube may also make changes to address conspiracy theory videos. YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan told The Wall Street Journal that the platform might begin to show relevant videos from credible news sources next to clips hawking conspiracy theories. The Journal says the change is still early in development so there’s no clear indication of how this might work or when it’ll roll out.
Mohan told the Journal his team had worked to improve YouTube as a platform where users can get news. It also works with the Google News division to select an “ever-changing list of authoritative news sources.”
“The principle here is to provide more information to our users, and let our users make the judgment themselves, as opposed to us being in the business of providing any sort of editorial judgment on any of these things ourselves,” he said. YouTube previously changed its search algorithms to display more reliable and trustworthy sources after a mass shooting in Las Vegas led to a spike in misinformation and hateful content. It’s far from the only platform dealing with issues of misinformation and Russian propaganda, however.
In October of last year, Twitter banned two media outlets with ties to the Russian government from its ad system, while Facebook apologized for allowing Russians to buy election ads. Google has also bumped heads with Russia over suggestions that the search engine would downrank results from government-funded media outlets RT and Sputnik.