YouTube has consistently allowed The Next News Network, a conspiracy theory channel with over a million subscribers, to monetize misinformation, without much penalty for doing so. In the most recent example, YouTube is letting the channel monetize a baseless conspiracy theory about Osama bin Laden, which has been viewed over 2 million times so far.
The Next News Network -- which has more than 1.7 million subscribers and is hosted by Gary Franchi, a former member of a super PAC supporting Ron Paul -- has for years been known to spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories. As HuffPost has noted, this includes videos “falsely claiming that Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of disaster-torn San Juan, Puerto Rico, was arrested for corruption involving relief funds; that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a speech while drunk; that former president Bill Clinton raped a teenager; that the Clinton Foundation was linked to the murder of a Canadian couple; and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people against getting the flu shot.” The channel also falsely claimed during the 2016 campaign that Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s disease.
And yet the channel has benefited from YouTube’s support in multiple ways: Guillaume Chaslot, an ex-Google engineer, told The Guardian in 2018 that “Franchi’s success could largely be credited to YouTube’s algorithms, which consistently amplified his videos to be played ‘up next,’” and HuffPost in 2019 found that his subscriber count was “steadily increasing.” YouTube has also previously given the channel a “Creator Award” for its high view count. And the platform has verified the channel, an action that may inadvertently lend it legitimacy, even if not intended.
HuffPost last year found that videos from The Next News Network at the time could “bring in an average of up to $2,185 daily for a rising annual income of as much as $885,600.” And that may be due to the fact that these videos often carry ads, meaning both the channel and YouTube make money from them. And in recent months the channel has continued spreading falsehoods, often benefiting from those ads while spreading harmful misinformation. Monetized videos with ads include:
- An October 12 video pusing an absurd conspiracy theory that there was a secret plot among Obama administration officials and the CIA to protect Osama bin Laden and assassinate people in SEAL Team 6. The video has more than two million views.
- A video that falsely claimed that wearing a mask “lower[s] your immune system.”
- A video that falsely claimed that anti-fascists were starting wildfires across the West Coast. Franchi said in the video that as the West Coast states “continue to burn, literally burn, and likely at the hands of antifa,” President Donald Trump “needs to step in and stop this Marxist revolution now.”
- A video that falsely suggested that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wore a wire at the September 29 presidential debate.
By repeatedly allowing The Next News Network to monetize its videos, YouTube has essentially incentivized a conspiracy theory channel with over a million followers to spread misinformation, while the platform itself financially benefits. And YouTube’s continued support of the channel, even if inadvertent, is a symptom of its overall failure to adequately prevent channels -- and itself -- from benefiting from pushing misinformation.