YouTube channels that make money from ads are increasing claims for fraud in Trump votes

At least nine popular YouTube channels on Thursday promoted debunked allegations of election fraud in the US president’s race, conspiratorial content that could jeopardize the video service’s advertising and membership revenues.

Reuters found the channels, which ranged from 1,000 to more than 6.29,000 followers, and confirmed claims that fact-checking units were classified as false or inaccurate by the Associated Press, Reuters, and other organizations.

YouTube, owned by Google by Alphabet, has rules prohibiting channels from using their revenue generation tools to “make claims that are proven to be false and that could seriously undermine participation in or trust in an electoral or democratic process”.

Google did not immediately respond to the question of whether to suspend ads and member sales on the channels. This punishment is commonly known as “demonization”.

In some states, the results of which will determine the hotly contested race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, Trump has made unfounded allegations of the Democratic Party stealing the election. Trump’s supporters have teamed up behind the misinformation on social media and protests outside of the vote counting websites.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have tried to protect themselves from misinformation as millions of posts arrive every day.

Researchers tracking misinformation say it is driven by content creators who see an opportunity to capitalize on it. Over the past few years, they have put pressure on YouTube and its advertisers to tighten controls.

Some YouTube advertisers are now avoiding sponsoring political content. However, the membership offer, where fans pay a few dollars a month for exclusive content and promotional items, has helped make up for lost ad sales.

One of the channels watched by Reuters, JohnTalks, shared two videos on Thursday about suspected election fraud in Michigan, a major battlefield state in the elections that Biden won, generating more than 90,000 views in eight hours.

Among the allegations made was that carts, suitcases and coolers were used to smuggle ballot papers into a counting center. At least three news outlets investigated the claim and found that the items contained groceries for election workers and camera equipment for a local television station.

JohnTalks did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Liberal online surveillance group Media Matters for America said in a report Thursday that post-election videos making dubious claims had totaled more than 1 million views.

YouTube’s policy of “demonstrably false” election information caught the eye on Wednesday when CNBC reported that One American News Network was generating advertising revenue from its YouTube video declaring Trump the early winner. YouTube said it wouldn’t remove the video but would no longer serve ads on it.

Trump’s talk of fraud has also opened up opportunities for his critics. Some popular YouTube channels that run ads and sell memberships have generated hundreds of thousands of views of videos that contradict Trump supporters’ claims of election fraud.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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