Technology

Senate Democrats urge YouTube CEO to take away election misinformation forward of the Georgia runoff

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Susan Wojicki, CEO of YouTube, speaks at the 2019 Code Conference on June 10, 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Asa Mathat | Vox Media

Several Senate Democrats wrote a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki Monday night saying they were concerned about election misinformation on their platform and requested its removal.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Gary Peters of Michigan, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Robert Menendez of New Jersey wrote the letter asking the company if they would commit to removing content that contained false or misleading information.

The letter describes the risk of misinformation ahead of two Senate runoff races on Jan. 5 in Georgia that will determine which party controls the US Senate. It is said that YouTube must "take responsibility" and "stop the spread of misinformation immediately".

"We are writing to express our deep concern about the spread of misinformation on your platform during and immediately after the 2020 election and in light of the upcoming Georgia runoff," the letter reads. "We urge you to promptly remove any misinformation about the election results and take aggressive steps to enforce bans on the results of future elections, as other social media companies have done."

The letter may not result in significant action, but it is due to the fact that YouTube, owned by Google, escaped criticism of misinformation regarding the social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.

However, in recent weeks, YouTube has faced setbacks and national attention after hosting videos making unsubstantiated claims that President Donald Trump won the presidential election and that Democrats are committing electoral fraud, despite the company admitting the videos are "proven to be false" and "[" undermine confidence in elections. "

The company's response was to remove ads and downgrade the videos in rankings. However, it was not consistently enforced, which resulted in misinformation videos going viral across the internet.

In response to the Senate Democrats' letter, a YouTube spokesman said the most popular election videos on the site were from "authoritative news organizations." The spokesman also said he is removing videos that violate his guidelines. The spokesman also said the company is allowing videos to discuss the election results and the process of counting votes.

"Like other companies, we allow discussions about the results of this election and the process of counting votes and continue to closely monitor new developments," the YouTube spokesman said in a statement.

In their letter, the senators gave an example of a YouTube video alleging evidence of electoral fraud in Michigan, which, despite all evidence of such fraud, had more than 5 million views.

"These videos try to undermine our democracy and challenge the legitimacy of the new administration of President-elect Biden," the letter said. "Since the current president has not committed himself to a peaceful change of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform can lead to unrest."

The letter asked YouTube what steps it was taking to ensure the platform was not suppressing votes, inciting violence, or making false claims about ballot papers. YouTube is also asked to provide data on videos that spread misinformation and to quantify the revenue YouTube generated from targeting misinformation about election results.

The senators asked for answers to questions by December 8th.

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Katherine Clark