YouTube has announced that it’ll finally start removing baseless election fraud claims, over a month after virtually every major news outlet called the election for Joe Biden and the Trump camp lost or withdrew from over 30 election-related lawsuits. According to YouTube, election results were only certain after yesterday’s safe harbour deadline, the closing date for state-level election challenges such as recounts.
I have spent far too much precious time during a pandemic trying to divine meaning from YouTube’s Seussian policies and arbitrary, “nuanced” moderation decisions, and I can definitively say that it was all a waste.
As YouTube explains in a blog post, the 2020 election is now “historic,” i.e., over:
We…disallow content alleging widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of a historical U.S. Presidential election. However in some cases, that has meant allowing controversial views on the outcome or process of counting votes of a current election as election officials have worked to finalise counts.
Yesterday was the safe harbour deadline for the U.S. Presidential election and enough states have certified their election results to determine a President-elect. Given that, we will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, in line with our approach towards historical U.S. Presidential elections.
The safe harbour deadline is particularly relevant to this election because it means that states, which have certified election results, would likely refuse any of the Trump campaign’s further lawsuits challenging ballot counts. They are letting Giuliani bide his time to bumble through his failed coup. All key states where the Trump campaign had disputed outcomes had certified their results by the end of last month. This means we can only reasonably believe that YouTube was waiting out Trump’s lawsuits, for which Rudy Giuliani often publicly based his arguments on the very fake videos YouTube left standing. Sometimes it went the other way around: in one case Vice tracked, in Rudy Giuliani picked up a Twitter rumour falsely claiming that RealClearPolitics rescinded their call for Biden, which then made it to the conspiracy-peddling Next News Network on YouTube.
The month between Biden’s victory and today gave ample time for the spread of a viral video which supposedly validated the bunk Dominion voting machine conspiracy, a video shared by Eric Trump, which many right-wing groups presented as evidence that people were burning Trump ballots, and a still-live conspiracy-fuelling video of a person supposedly smuggling wagons and suitcases into a ballot-counting centre.
Nearly a month ago, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the federal agency charged with overseeing election security, deemed the 2020 election the “most secure in American history.” Over a week ago, even Trump doormat Attorney General William Barr confidently stated that there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
In statements to Gizmodo and others, YouTube has maintained that it has prioritised “authoritative” sources by filling top results for “election fraud” with reports from outlets like Fox News, the Guardian, and CBS. That doesn’t solve the problem of traffic from outside platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram. YouTube did not confirm to Gizmodo how much of its overall traffic comes from links posted on other sites.
YouTube has also inserted a label which appears on some, but not all, videos discussing the baseless election allegations. “The AP has called the Presidential race for Joe Biden,” it says.
In an email to Gizmodo, a YouTube spokesperson declined to comment on the rationale for this policy or on how many videos it expects to remove.