PesaCheck, and its parent organisation, Code for Africa (CfA), have joined with over 80 other International Fact-Checking Network members from over 60 countries calling on YouTube to combat the spread of misinformation on the platform.
In a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, PesaCheck highlight how YouTube content is being weaponised by unscrupulous actors to manipulate and exploit the public, or to profiteer from conspiracist claims. It notes that YouTube’s current measures to combat mis/disinformation on the platform are insufficient. This is especially true in non-English speaking countries in the Global South, where YouTube’s algorithms are not as effective at detecting toxic content. As a result, many misleading or otherwise harmful videos and channels remain online today, operating under the radar of YouTube’s policies or safeguards.
“False information can kill. Combatting inflammatory claims on YouTube, and other social platforms, is not a luxury. These conspiracy claims are often deliberately designed by external bad actors, including criminal syndicates and hostile foreign nations, to undermine our democratic institutions and social cohesion. It is therefore crucial that we have better access and tools for detecting and debunking the most harmful content,” says PesaCheck’s acting managing editor, Doreen Wainainah.
The letter cites a wide number of examples of how toxic YouTube content has gone viral in different countries, resulting in real harm in real life. It says YouTube does implement counter-measures, but has not released enough raw data for fact-checkers or other research watchdogs to understand whether the measures are effective or how they can be improved. The letter therefore urges YouTube to adopt a more open policy with fact-checkers, based on models that have been proven to work on other social media platforms where fact-checkers and researchers work with the platform to combat toxic content.
“Given that a large proportion of views on YouTube come from its own recommendation algorithm, YouTube should also make sure it does not actively promote disinformation to its users or recommend content coming from unreliable channels”. The letter says.
PesaCheck focuses on debunking misinformation and is the third largest fact-checking organisation, by geographic footprint, in the world. It currently has full-time researchers/fact-checkers in 13 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Niger, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. PesaCheck’s sister organisation at CfA, the iLAB, focuses on detecting and exposing disinformation and has full-time researchers in a further five countries, including Ghana, Nigeria Senegal, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Many of these countries, from Ethiopia and CAR to Mali and Niger are affiliated by ongoing armed conflict that is stoked by hate speech and deliberately misleading information on platforms such as YouTube.