YouTube prohibits content that misleads people about voting, but election misinformation has received more than a million views this week
YouTube videos pushing misinformation about the results of the 2020 presidential election have received high combined view counts, despite the platform's community guidelines prohibiting “content that aims to mislead people about voting.”
As YouTube emphasized in advance of the election, it prohibits both misleading voting-related content and content “encouraging others to interfere with democratic processes, such as obstructing or interrupting voting procedure.”
Yet the platform has come under criticism for allowing the spread of a video from right-wing host Steven Crowder pushing false voter fraud claims and another from far-right One America News Network (OAN) alleging that “Trump won. MSM hopes you don’t believe your eyes.” The platform has put a “results may not be final” label under these and other videos about the election.
A Media Matters review found that the spread of election misinformation on YouTube was not limited to those two videos: Searching since November 3 on the tracking tool BuzzSumo for videos with titles featuring “fraud,” “ballots,” “steal,” and “won” yielded numerous videos pushing inaccurate voter fraud claims, falsely alleging the election was stolen from President Donald Trump, and prematurely declaring Trump won. Collectively, these videos had drawn more than a million views.
In one video with more than 270,000 views, a person falsely claimed that in some of the contested states, “they are working overtime to find some of those missing ballots that all seem to be going for Joseph Biden.” Another video, with more than 70,000 views, also pushed that false claim. And a video with 50,000 views also pushed a false conspiracy theory circulating among supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory that certain ballots were watermarked to supposedly catch Democrats cheating.
Additionally, multiple videos have circulated on YouTube pushing the false claim that Arizona voters who filled out their ballots using Sharpie permanent markers would not have their votes counted, getting hundreds of thousands of combined views.
There were also multiple videos pushing the baseless notion that Democrats were somehow “stealing” the election from Trump, including some featuring radio host and former Trump administration staffer Sebastian Gorka. Those videos alone had more than half a million combined views.
One video pushing the baseless claim and drawing hundreds of thousands of views, from commentator Steve Turley, even had ads, meaning both he and YouTube made money from it; this was also the case with Crowder’s video. (YouTube has repeatedly monetized misinformation on its platform.)
And OAN was not the only channel with content prematurely proclaiming Trump the winner: In one video with significantly more views than the OAN video (nearly 650,000), titled “Trump WINS REELECTION as FOX Becomes KING of FAKE NEWS!!!,” Turley said he was “calling it here: Trump has in effect won reelection.” And in another video with about 170,000 views, Tarl Warwick, a vlogger with far-right connections, claimed that “Trump has fairly clearly won reelection” and even encouraged people to protest at state capitols.