Supporting the 2020 U.S. election
Dec 09, 2020 – minute read
Over the past weeks and months, we’ve seen people coming to YouTube to learn more about where and how to vote or learning more about a candidate or an issue. We’ve seen news organizations grow their audience. And we’ve seen people turn to YouTube for the latest election results or simply to follow an historic event with the highest voting turnout in over a century in the U.S.
Our main goal going into the election season was to make sure we’re connecting people with authoritative information, while also limiting the reach of misinformation and removing harmful content. The work here is ongoing and we wanted to provide an update.
Our Community Guidelines prohibit spam, scams, or other manipulated media, coordinated influence operations, and any content that seeks to incite violence. Since September, we've terminated over 8000 channels and thousands of harmful and misleading elections-related videos for violating our existing policies. Over 77% of those removed videos were taken down before they had 100 views.
We also work to make sure that the line between what is removed and what is allowed is drawn in the right place. Our policies prohibit misleading viewers about where and how to vote. We also disallow content alleging widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of a historical U.S. Presidential election. However in some cases, that has meant allowing controversial views on the outcome or process of counting votes of a current election as election officials have worked to finalize counts.
Yesterday was the safe harbor deadline for the U.S. Presidential election and enough states have certified their election results to determine a President-elect. Given that, we will start removing any piece of content uploaded today (or anytime after) that misleads people by alleging that widespread fraud or errors changed the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, in line with our approach towards historical U.S. Presidential elections. For example, we will remove videos claiming that a Presidential candidate won the election due to widespread software glitches or counting errors. We will begin enforcing this policy today, and will ramp up in the weeks to come. As always, news coverage and commentary on these issues can remain on our site if there’s sufficient education, documentary, scientific or artistic context.
While only a small portion of watch time is election-related content, YouTube continues to be an important source of election news. On average 88% of the videos in top 10 search results related to elections came from authoritative news sources (amongst the rest are things like newsy late-night shows, creator videos and commentary). And the most viewed channels and videos are from news channels like NBC and CBS.
We also showed information panels linking both to Google’s election results feature, which sources election results from The Associated Press, and to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) “Rumor Control” page for debunking election integrity misinformation, alongside these and over 200,000 other election-related videos. Collectively, these information panels have been shown over 4.5 billion times. Starting today, we will update this information panel, linking to the “2020 Electoral College Results” page from the Office of the Federal Register, noting that as of December 8, states have certified Presidential election results, with Joe Biden as the President-elect. It will also continue to include a link to CISA, explaining that states certify results after ensuring ballots are properly counted and correcting irregularities and errors.
Additionally, since Election Day, relevant fact check information panels, from third party fact checkers, were triggered over 200,000 times above relevant election-related search results, including for voter fraud narratives such as “Dominion voting machines” and “Michigan recount.”
Now let’s look at recommendations, one of the main ways our viewers find content. Limiting the reach of borderline content and prominently surfacing authoritative information are important ways we protect people from problematic content that doesn’t violate our Community Guidelines. Over 70% of recommendations on election-related topics came from authoritative news sources and the top recommended videos and channels for election-related content were primarily authoritative news. In fact, the top 10 authoritative news channels were recommended over 14X more than the top 10 non-authoritative channels on election-related content.
Despite these encouraging results, we recognize there's always more to do. For example, while problematic misinformation represents a fraction of 1% of what's watched on YouTube in the U.S., we know we can bring that number down even more. And some videos, while not recommended prominently on YouTube, continue to get high views, sometimes coming from other sites. We're continuing to consider this and other new challenges as we make ongoing improvements.
We understand the need for intense scrutiny on our elections-related work. Our teams work hard to ensure we are striking a balance between allowing for a broad range of political speech and making sure our platform isn't abused to incite real-world harm or broadly spread harmful misinformation. We welcome ongoing debate and discussion and will keep engaging with experts, researchers and organizations to ensure that our policies and products are meeting that goal. And as always, we'll apply learnings from this election to our ongoing efforts to protect the integrity of elections around the world.