Election misinformation proliferates on YouTube ahead of midterms
Media Matters found dozens of channels that are still pushing election misinformation
Despite YouTube’s supposed commitment to removing videos that violate the company’s “election integrity” policy, Media Matters found that misinformation about the 2022 midterms and the 2020 election remain widespread, and 49 right-wing channels that frequently posted false claims about the 2020 presidential election are still on the video-streaming platform.
In the days and weeks after the 2020 election, right-wing actors exploited YouTube’s haphazard enforcement of its election misinformation policies to bolster the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement, which resulted in the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Although prominent coup-plotting figures like former Trump strategist Steve Bannon have been banned from YouTube, election-denying GOP candidates have continued to repost clips of their appearances on Bannon’s show to the platform — including explicit denials of the results of the 2020 election. In October, Media Matters also identified dozens of Spanish-language videos on YouTube promoting baseless conspiracy theories about dead people voting and other tampering in the 2020 election.
A review of the platform before Tuesday’s midterm elections revealed 49 channels of right-wing outlets and personalities that frequently posted misinformation about the 2020 presidential election are still on the platform. These 49 channels have over 53.3 million combined subscribers and more than 24.5 billion combined channel views. Additionally, 9 of the channels are monetized: right-wing outlets Breitbart and BlazeTV and right-wing personalities Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk, Dave Rubin, Diamond and Silk, Dinesh D'Souza, Austen Fletcher (known online as Fleccas), and Sara Carter.
Media Matters has also identified videos that appear to violate YouTube’s election misinformation policies, specifically its prohibition of content that advances “false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in certain past elections” and content that encourages “others to interfere with democratic processes,” which includes “obstructing or interrupting voting procedures.” (Notably, the company has not added the 2022 midterms to its list of elections about which users cannot spread false claims of “widespread fraud, errors, or glitches.”)
Now, right-wing organizations, media outlets, and figures are using YouTube’s platform to push dangerous election misinformation, including false claims about Democrats’ “massive and coordinated effort to steal” the 2020 election. As one right-wing personality recently claimed on YouTube, “When it comes to voter fraud and election fraud, the Democrats are to election fraud what Elvis was to rock-and-roll.”
Videos inferring that the midterm elections will be rigged for Democrats
- On October 20, right-wing fraudster and conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza falsely claimed that “we have Chinese — aka Communist Party — infiltration of the U.S. election system. There’s really no other way to look at it. U.S. election data in a kind of real-time basis is now being … potentially manipulated by people in China.” Claims of Chinese interference in the 2020 election have been repeatedly debunked.
- In another video, D’Souza claimed that the Democrats “organized a massive fraud operation” to usurp the 1864 election in a segment promoting the delayed companion book to his discredited election conspiracy theory film 2000 Mules. “You can infer the comparison yourself,” D’Souza laughed.
- Right-wing polling group Rasmussen Reports published a video titled “Electronic Voting Machines - Our Latest Election Cheating Questions - We Discuss on Absolute Truth.” Host Emerald Robinson claimed that voting machines had not been through “logic and accuracy testing yet,” citing the authors of election denial book The Parallel Election, who have a history of spreading smears against election workers and debunked claims about voting machines.
- Fox News’ YouTube channel published a clip from The Big Sunday Show in which Fox contributor Sean Duffy said Democrats “don’t want to make sure we have safe and secure elections” and instead support voting laws that are “ripe for fraud, and they’re good at fraud.”
- A video by conservative think tank Capital Research Center conflated universal mail-in voting and “ballot harvesting,” claiming that voting by mail “can be easily abused” by nefarious ballot harvesters who ritualistically bully and intimidate voters into altering their votes or even fraudulently fill out blank ballots en masse. In reality, experts agree that mail-in voting is secure and absentee ballot fraud cases that utilize fraudulent ballot collection schemes are extremely rare.
Videos that push dangerous election misinformation about previous elections
- Capital Research Center posted a number of other videos on its channel that contain election misinformation. One recent video titled “Voter Suppression Myth: Busted” includes the false claim that Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million donation to aid in election infrastructure in 2020 resulted in “additional votes helping swing the results toward Biden.” In another video posted to the channel, conservative radio personality Paul Schiffer said, “When it comes to voter fraud and election fraud, the Democrats are to election fraud what Elvis was to rock-and-roll, what Muhammad Ali was to boxing.”
- Fringe propaganda site The Gateway Pundit posted a clip of a Fox News interview with former Trump attorney Sydney Powell claiming Democrats had executed “a massive and coordinated effort to steal” the 2020 election, when Powell launched a number of lawsuits aimed at overturning election results in battleground states. All of Powell’s far-fetched claims were debunked and defeated in court. In fact, the company Powell falsely accused of rigging election results, Dominion Voting Systems, subsequently served her a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit.
- The Gateway Pundit has also published other clips that appear to violate YouTube’s election integrity policy, including a video in which former Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield suggested that security footage of a van driving through Detroit’s TCF Center parking lot early in the morning, “while votes are still being counted inside,” was proof of voter fraud. Right-wing newspaper The Washington Times later reported that “the vehicle and teams were simply working late on the busiest ballot-handling election in state history.
- Conservative smear operation Project Veritas shared a clip of Trump-backed Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka claiming that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and her “campaign staff colluded together to deceive Alaskans” and implement ranked-choice voting, calling the voting system “a “desecration of democracy in order to rig the election in your favor.” Project Veritas, which was recently ordered to pay $120,000 to a victim of one of its political hits, also posted multiple videos suggesting that Murkowski had secretly supported ranked-choice voting to tilt future elections her way. (Election experts laud ranked-choice voting as a system that “maximizes voter satisfaction by elevating the most widely supported candidates, rather than extreme candidates who are able to win races with large fields of candidates based on small bases of support.”)