YouTube Is Using Fox News to Combat Election Night Propaganda

Fox News has repeatedly spread misinformation about mail-in ballots and voter fraud.
October 28, 2020, 12:37pm
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Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.

All major social media platforms are steeling themselves for a deluge of disinformation related to the results on Election Day.

On Tuesday, it was YouTube’s turn to lay out the measures it’s putting in place to combat the spread of disinformation on its network.

“Beginning on Election Day, we’ll prominently surface a new election-results information panel at the top of search results for a broad range of queries related to the election and under videos that discuss the election.”

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So far, so good.

But buried much further down in its announcement came this line: “Finally, we’ll continue to elevate authoritative sources, including news publishers like CNN and Fox News, for election-related news and information queries in search results and ‘watch next’ panels.”

The problem with this policy is that Fox News has repeatedly spread misinformation about mail-in ballots and voter fraud, spurred on by its No. 1 viewer, President Donald Trump.

A survey in September from Media Matters for America, a nonprofit that tracks right-wing websites, found that Fox News was among the biggest sharers of videos about mail-in voting between March and August of this year.

The survey found that just six videos shared on Fox News channels racked up 2.6 million views.

One of those videos featured high-profile Fox News host Tucker Carlson pushing unfounded allegations that Democrats are trying to steal the election through voter fraud.

In the video, titled “Tucker: Ballot harvesting makes a mockery of the secret vote,” Carlson claims that Democrats are trying to legalize the practice of ballot harvesting in all 50 states in order to “make it as unrestricted as possible” to skew votes toward Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

In September, YouTube announced a new policy related to election misinformation, saying it would put an information panel directing viewers to a think tank report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, titled “Voting by Mail Counts” on any video containing potentially misleading information about mail-in voting.

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Today, the Carlson video has amassed over 1 million views and remains on YouTube, without that information panel.

And, as Election Day approaches, Fox News channels continue to share disinformation related to the voting process, with the Fox News channels—as well as Fox Business—continuing to publish videos pushing baseless claims of widespread election fraud.

YouTube said that none of the examples of Fox News election misinformation that VICE News flagged breached their policies, and said that “content with sufficient educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic (EDSA) value, like news videos, is allowed on YouTube.”

YouTube’s decision to rely on Fox News to help people navigate the potentially incendiary flood of misinformation coming next week is concerning, given how closely Fox’s coverage resembles Trump’s own false claims.

“[Trump] has had eager accomplices at Fox News who relentlessly misinform their viewers about mail-in voting and other purported vectors for voter fraud,” Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters, said in an article Tuesday that highlighted 17 times Trump has cast doubt on the election after watching a segment on Fox.

Here’s what else is happening in the world of election disinformation.

Trump tried to pull a fast one on Facebook

Facebook’s deadline for political ads passed on Tuesday, a week out from the election. But before the shutters came down, the Trump campaign gamed the system by placing ads that erroneously claimed it was Election Day—and one Teletubbies-inspired ad that claimed he had won.

The ads were viewed by tens of thousands of Facebook users in swing states such as Florida, Arizona, and Georgia before Facebook was alerted to the issue as a result (once again) of the work of a journalist. This time it was Megan Graham at NBC.

Facebook’s rules around election ads allow any ad that has been seen by at least one Facebook account to be promoted again during the week leading up to Election Day, so the Trump campaign may have been planning to push the ads again next Tuesday, Election Day.

But whatever the plan, the ads have now been removed. Facebook told VICE News that it was rejecting the ads because it “prohibits ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity.”

Old-school disinformation tactics

We are used to hearing about cutting-edge digital campaigns designed to sow distrust and spread disinformation, which use artificial intelligence and deep fake technology to fool victims. But a new campaign — designed to spread anti-trans misinformation about Joe Biden — is using some decidedly older techniques.

The campaign, operated by conservative PAC American Principles Project, is using text messages to connect with voters. The messages are falsely claiming that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden supports "sex change operations for children as young as 8."