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June 5, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 5:56am

Youtube accused of ‘actively promoting misinformation’ as MPs grill social media giants on Covid-19 infodemic

By William Turvill

A senior UK politician has accused Youtube of “actively promoting misinformation or dangerous information to people” through videos promoted on their homepages on the website.

Yvette Cooper MP, chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee, challenged the video platform over recommendations she received for fake news content (video below).

Speaking at a Parliamentary hearing with Leslie Miller, Youtube’s vice president of government affairs and public policy, Cooper told how her searches for “David Icke”, the British conspiracy theorist, on the site had led to subsequent homepage recommendations for conspiracy theories relating to 5G technology and anti-vaccination messaging.

Miller, who was appearing along with other tech executives before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation to speak about Covid-19 misinformation, said Youtube is working hard to promote reputable news sources and reduce the availability of “borderline content”.

“Yeah, but it’s not working on something so obvious as this,” Cooper told her. “In both of these cases this was not something I was searching for… it was what was promoted to me on my homepage.

“And that’s what I find so shocking about this.

“Youtube has decided what to put on my homepage. It’s not the result of something I’ve searched for, something that’s slipped in at maybe ninth or tenth down a list of searches where the top eight were very sensible. It’s come it up there on my homepage relatively high up so that when I just go back to home, this is what I am being encouraged by Youtube to watch.

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“Surely that is utterly irresponsible of Youtube?”

Cooper added that she had been raising similar issues with Youtube since December 2017, asking the company to explain “what you are doing to stop algorithms actively promoting misinformation or dangerous information to people”.

She added: “I feel a little bit like Groundhog Day, and like I’m raising the same thing each time.”

Youtube and other social media platforms have removed thousands of misinformation posts about Covid-19 in recent months. The firm also recently removed the account of David Icke, the infamous British conspiracy theorist, from its website. 

Several recent investigations by Press Gazette have exposed how Covid-19 misinformation has gone viral on Youtube. Earlier this week, Press Gazette launched a new campaign, Fight The Infodemic, calling on social media firms to do more to tackle misinformation.

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