YouTube's misinformation policies led to fewer misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter

The company's December 8th and January 7th decisions were pivotal.

Anatoliy Sizov via Getty Images

New research has found that policies put in place by YouTube to curb election misinformation had a significant impact on the number of false and misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter. The findings come from a report a team of researchers from the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University shared with The New York Times. In the immediate aftermath of the US election on November 3rd, the researchers recorded a dramatic increase in the number of YouTube election fraud videos shared on Twitter. That month, those clips represented approximately one-third of all election-related videos shared on the platform.

After December 8th, the day YouTube said it would remove videos that claimed widespread errors and fraud changed the outcome of the contest, there was a dramatic drop in misleading election claims on Twitter. In that time period, the ratio of election fraud videos shared on Twitter from YouTube dropped to below 20 percent. That ratio fell again following the US Capitol riot when YouTube said it would hand out strikes to any channel spreading misinformation about the results of the election. By the time President Biden swore the Oath of Office on January 20th, only around five percent of all election fraud videos on Twitter were coming from YouTube.

The researchers saw that same trend play out on Facebook. Before YouTube’s December 8th policy decision, about 18 percent of all videos shared on the platform were related to election fraud theories. By Inauguration Day, that number fell to four percent. To compile their findings, the team at New York University collected a random sampling of 10 percent of all tweets each day and then isolated the ones that linked out to YouTube videos. They did the same on Facebook using the company’s CrowdTangle tool.

If nothing else, the findings highlight the outsized role YouTube plays in how information is shared in our current moment. As the most ubiquitous video platform on the internet, the company has an enormous amount of power to shape political discourse. Its policies can do both great harm and good. “It’s a huge part of the information ecosystem,” Megan Brown, a researcher at the Center for Social Media and Politics told The Times. “When YouTube’s platform becomes healthier, others do as well.”