How YouTube Can Rewrite the Past and Shape an Election

There’s a lot of historical disinformation, and it’s one of the biggest issues in the Philippines. This ranges from outright denialism, saying that the atrocities during the martial law regime never happened. And there’s also the more extreme claims, like the “Marcos gold” myth. We know their wealth comes from stealing from the Filipino people and from public funds, but it allows them to say [they didn’t steal].

A lot of reporters and historians were surprised at the level of propaganda and disinformation on YouTube. But my research shows that even in early 2011 there were videos like these, and the trend accelerated after 2016. Even when students are searching for Philippine history on YouTube, these false claims come up.

Is this something you flagged to YouTube?

We [Gaw and coauthor Cheryll Soriano] did this research in 2020, and we had conversations with YouTube executives. We said, “Here is a list of videos and channels we are flagging as containing historical disinformation and denialism.” And they said they would check and get back to us, but they never did. The people they send to the Philippines are not the ones who really have a voice in drafting content moderation policies.

The problem really is how YouTube defines misinformation—it’s a very Western approach. In the Philippines, a lot of political divides are not ideological, they’re patronage based. It’s about what elite family you support, and whose narrative you therefore subscribe to.

[Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for YouTube, says that its hate speech policy and a number of its election misinformation policies are applicable globally, “and take into account cultural context and nuance.” She says YouTube regularly reviews and updates its policies, and “when developing our policies, we consult with internal and outside experts around the globe, and take their feedback into account.”]

Have you seen YouTube take down any of the videos?

No, that’s actually the most frustrating part. Early in the election season, they said “We’re going to really be serious in making sure that the election is fair and free.” But the part where they actually take action on the content, on the platform, there’s really nothing that’s happening, nothing meaningful. Even the historical disinformation I flagged two years ago is still there. In fact, because they were not taken down, those 500,000 subscribers now are 2 million. So there’s this exponential gain on these channels and videos because they were left untouched by the platform.

If videos are popular they can get brand sponsorships. And because they have a lot of subscribers and they’re talking about a very salient topic, there are lots of views. And that’s paid for by YouTube—they’re kind of paying for disinformation.

[YouTube’s Ivy Choi says that it removes offensive content “as quickly as possible” and that it removed more than 48,000 videos in the Philippines during Q4 2021 for violating its Community Guidelines. YouTube says it is reviewing the specific channels flagged by WIRED, but that it reviews all of the channels in its YouTube’s partner program and removes those that don’t comply with its policies.]

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