YouTube aims to fight fake news with links to the real thing

Users searching for information will see related links from authoritative sources

YouTube has unveiled a move to counter fake news by setting up working groups with media organisations and committing US$25 million (S$34 million) to invest in expertise, innovation and support for news publishers.

YouTube users in the US will now see information from third parties, including Wikipedia, alongside videos on a small number of well-established historical and scientific topics often subject to misinformation, said the video streaming giant at a media event in New York on Monday.

This way, if a person convinced of his or her own conspiracy theory - say that the 1969 moon landing was faked - would, in searching for sources to confirm their own bias, see information from authoritative sources countering or balancing their theory.

YouTube did not say when this feature would be rolled out globally. Its executives, in announcing the move on Monday, called it a "fast follow" to the Google News Initiative announced in March, which similarly aims to boost the visibility of news from credible sources.

This comes amid increasing concern globally about misinformation, hate and propaganda on social media platforms and a surge in interest in news. In the United States, the number of people watching YouTube for news has tripled since 2016, its executives said.

"We remain committed to working with the journalism community to build a more sustainable video ecosystem for news organisations," said YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan and chief business officer Robert Kyncl.

In a written blog, they added: "We know there is a lot of work to do, but we're eager to provide a better experience to users who come to YouTube every day to learn more about what is happening in the world from a diversity of sources."

They said YouTube is establishing a working group with news organisations and experts from around the world to help it develop new product features, improve the news experience on YouTube, and tackle emerging challenges.

Early members of the group are US-based Vox Media, Brazil-based Jovem Pan, and India-based India Today, they said.

At the New York event, Mr Mohan said everything is still at the early stages, when pressed to explain how the company would determine what was an authoritative source.

Under the innovation funding plan unveiled by YouTube, it would "provide funding across approximately 20 global markets to support news organisations in building sustainable video operations".

YouTube said news organisations of all types can apply to the grant, which can be used to build key capabilities, train staff on video best practices, enhance production facilities and develop formats optimised for online video.

In terms of support, YouTube's team would be "significantly" expanded to focus on supporting news publishers. "These specialists will be based around the world and support partners with training and best practices in formats, audience development, day-to-day platform operations, and sophisticated technical integrations," it said.

And, together with Google, YouTube has teamed up with the Poynter Institute, Stanford University, Local Media Association and the National Association for Media Literacy Education to support MediaWise, a US-based initiative designed to equip one million teens with digital literacy skills.

Mr Mohan also said a key issue for YouTube is how to balance the open nature of the platform with the need for veracity.

"We recognise we don't have all the answers," said Mr Mohan, adding, however, that YouTube would be "as aggressive as we can (in providing) as much context as we can".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2018, with the headline 'YouTube aims to fight fake news with links to the real thing'. Subscribe