YouTube is doing more to combat the spread of misinformation during major breaking news events.
The online video behemoth announced Monday it’s taking dramatic steps to improve the quality of videos that appear in search results for breaking and historical news events.
In addition to changing the way search results are organized, the company says it will begin providing information from third parties such as Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica for videos about a small number of historical events that have been subject to misinformation campaigns, such as the Apollo moon landings and Oklahoma City bombing.
These sweeping changes will broadly effect how videos are ranked on YouTube, and they are just the latest extension of the Google News Initiative that kicked off in March in an effort to support journalism and combat fake news.
“YouTube has a responsibility to make authoritative sources readily available, provide context to help people make their own decisions, and support journalism with technology that allows news to thrive,” said YouTube’s chief product officer Neal Mohan in a statement.
The most obvious change being made to YouTube is the addition of a both a “Top News” and “Breaking News” scrolling shelf that will begin appearing above all search results. The company has been testing these features for the past few months, and they will now roll out to all users.
The new shelves will give preference to videos from authoritative news sources. So how does YouTube determine if a source is authoritative? By looking at things like the number of citations across the internet and historical credibility of a publication — not just the popularity of a video. YouTube says Google PageRank, the algorithm that powers the Google search engine, will play a major role in determining whether a source is considered authoritative.
More surprisingly, YouTube will also begin including text-based, written reports at the top of the YouTube search bar during breaking news events. The articles featured in the “Developing News” bar will be filtered from Google News, and it can include any news agency that’s a Google News Partner.
The thinking behind these noticeable changes is that YouTube wants to make it much easier for its users to find good information as news is breaking. In the past, YouTube has been widely criticized for allowing conspiracy videos to outperform videos from legitimate news agencies. In particular, YouTube was lambasted for spreading misinformation during mass shootings.
Including written stories in search results will also ease the pressure for YouTube to deliver high-quality, accurate videos in the wake of breaking news events.
For those who may not be familiar with the process, journalists typically write articles before tackling the longer process of producing, editing, and publishing videos during breaking-news situations — so having written stories appear in the YouTube search results may ease the strain of having to provide credible information quickly.
These changes are all part of YouTube’s ongoing struggle to balance freedom of expression with the responsibility of being one of the largest news distributors in history. By including text-based articles in the search feed, YouTube will (at least in theory) be able to stave off misinformation as breaking news occurs.
The other noticeable change will appear when someone searches for a major historical event. Now, when you search for something like the moon landing, YouTube will include a small bit of contextual information about the event. It will also rely more heavily on sources the company deems to be “authoritative,” rather than featuring the most popular or click bait-y video.
Finally, YouTube is making it easier for people to access local news. The company announced today it has begun testing features to surface local news in the YouTube app for TVs across 25 markets in the U.S. including cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Charlotte, Sacramento, and many others. The company says it plans to expand this offering to dozens more markets including places like Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Kansas City.
YouTube’s efforts to combat fake news are markedly different than those undertaken by its chief competitors, Facebook and Twitter. Although all of these major tech companies are focused on providing greater context and transparency about news articles that appear on its platform, YouTube has the benefit of being able to rely on Google PageRank, one of the most powerful algorithms in the world for measuring the importance of a website.
When PageRank is applied to YouTube videos, the algorithm will theoretically be able to thwart misinformation campaigns more quickly than other news distributors. Whether this actually happens during the next major news event remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: YouTube couldn’t be doing a much worse job than it already was.