Even after it was clear that Donald Trump had lost the 2020 presidential election, his followers — including a far-right conspiracy movement in the form of the notorious QAnon — continued to operate on YouTube with little to no intervention until BuzzFeed News reported on an active disinformation campaign.
According to the media outlet, a group of YouTube channels affiliated with the conservative and pro-Trump Epoch Times was actively pushing fraudulent claims about the election on the social media network. Among the hoaxes to be peddled, the network of channels actively pushed a conspiracy theory that "communists" were behind the chaotic events in Congress on Wednesday. On that day, hundreds of Trump supporters, QAnon followers, and others stormed Congress in a failed insurrection attempt.
One of the hosts for the channels spreading misinformation, Michael Lewis, falsely claimed, "There is mounting evidence to show that an old Communist tactic was used here. These people instigated the crowd and stirred up the people into a fervor... It looks to be antifa from early reports." Unsubstantiated and divisive claims like these are nothing new, but that they continue to flourish on YouTube — a network that vowed to do better not too long ago — is concerning, if not dismaying.
Subterfuge in the guise of news — Some of these channels have massive followings in the form of at least 200,000 subscribers. Collective views for one channel crossed 11.6 million views. Shortly before the 2020 election, platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and others announced that they would actively root out any disinformation campaigns in the forms of channels, pages, groups, and individual accounts.
But as is evident in BuzzFeed News' report, there is a lot of work that remains to be done. Soon after the outlet alerted YouTube to the presence of this group of channels, it removed "several" videos, according the company's head of policy communications, Farshad Shadloo. However, Shadloo did not elaborate exactly how many of these channels had been taken down.
A little introspection should help — YouTube's openness toward allowing and hosting expression of all kinds of social and political opinions — a free speech absolutist position taken by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg — has inadvertently and rather inevitably caused the platform serious harm. While it is healthy and even necessary to be open to diversity of ideology and philosophies, it is equally critical to put a lid on incendiary content. Epoch Times' "news" frequently fell in the latter category. The fact that YouTube is still struggling to fix the problem is rather disappointing.