Amid "Fake News" Debate, YouTube Will Now Label State-Sponsored Videos

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki - Getty H 2017
Courtesy of Getty Images

The new feature will impact a range of outlets, from the United States' PBS to Britain's BBC to Russia's RT.

In an effort to crack down on propaganda, YouTube will begin labeling videos that are uploaded by state-sponsored news media. 

The Google-owned video giant announced the move in a Friday blog post that said, "Our goal is to equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch on YouTube." 

The label will appear below the video and above its title. It will include a link to the broadcaster's Wikipedia page. 

It's expected that the new feature will impact a range of outlets, from the United States' PBS to Britain's BBC to Russia's RT. YouTube was one of several social media platforms that RT used to push pro-Donald Trump and anti-Hilary Clinton propaganda during the 2016 presidential election. 

The feature will begin rolling out in the U.S. today. YouTube acknowledges that "we don't expect it to be perfect," and said that users can submit feedback to help the company improve the feature over time. 

A PBS spokeswoman responded to the change on Friday afternoon calling it "vague and misleading." The full statement reads, "Labeling PBS a 'publicly funded broadcaster' is both vague and misleading. PBS and its member stations receive a small percentage of funding from the federal government; the majority of funding comes from private donations. More importantly, PBS is an independent, private, not-for-profit corporation, not a state broadcaster. YouTube’s proposed labeling could wrongly imply that the government has influence over PBS content, which is prohibited by statute. If YouTube's intent is to create clarity and better understanding, this is a step in the wrong direction. We are in ongoing discussions with YouTube on this issue, but we have yet to reach a satisfactory solution."

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan also said that YouTube is considering placing credible news videos alongside videos that propagate conspiracy theories and other so-called "fake news."

YouTube, which has more than 1.5 billion users, has come under fire over the last year for its inability to crack down on inappropriate videos. Not only was the platform used to share Russian propaganda, but it also become home to violent and exploitative children's videos. 

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki has pledged to make a number of changes meant to filter out that type of content. She plans to grow YouTube's trust and safety teams to more than 10,000 employees by the end of 2018. And the company has made changes to its search algorithm that are meant to surface more trustworthy news videos. 

Despite YouTube's efforts, advertisers have become frustrated with the platform. Many temporarily suspended their ads last year after they discovered that the videos were running alongside crude or anti-Semitic videos. As a result, many YouTubers saw declines in their ad revenue. (YouTube shares a portion of revenue from ads with its top creators.) 

On Thursday, Wojcicki released a blog post with her priorities for the creator community in 2018. Among them was an effort to prioritize transparency and communication, which appeared to be a direct nod to frustrations among creators that YouTube did not do enough to message to them how some of the platform's larger issues around brand safety would impact individual channels. 

Wojcicki also noted that YouTube will focus on tightening and enforcing its policies. "We realize we have a serious social responsibility to get these emerging policy issues right," she wrote. And in what appeared to be a direct response to the backlash over Logan Paul's video featuring the image of a suicide victim, she said that YouTube is "also currently developing policies that would lead to consequences if a creator does something egregious that causes significant harm to our community as a whole." 

Feb. 2, 1:47 p.m. Updated to include the response from PBS.