As the United States of America prepares for the 2020 Presidential elections, YouTube reiterated that it would remove “technically manipulated or doctored” videos, as well as content that tries to mislead people about voting and census issues, like when and where to vote. Channels that attempt to impersonate another person or channel, misrepresent their country of origin, or conceal their association with a government actor, would be terminated, the platform said. Also, channels that “artificially increase” engagement on their content would also be terminated. While none of these measures are new, it lays out an overview of how the platform would deal with misleading election-related videos on its platform. We’ve reached out to YouTube for further clarification on the questions listed below.

Videos that have incorrect information about voting, including trying to mislead people by using an incorrect voting date, would not be allowed. It said it would also remove videos that spread lies about a political candidate’s citizenship status or eligibility for public office. One example of a serious risk could be a video that was technically manipulated to make it appear that a government official was dead, YouTube said.

YouTube’s overview is in line with moves being made by big tech firms ahead of US’ 2020 elections, to grapple with the issue of online disinformation. Earlier this year, Facebook said that it would take down videos that have been edited beyond adjustments for clarity or quality using artificial intelligence/machine learning. In October 2019, Twitter announced that it would not allow political and issue ads on the platform.

A few questions:

  • What are ‘technically manipulated’ videos? It isn’t clear if a viral video of Presidential candidate Joseph Biden, which was merely cut in a way to make it appear as if he were making racist remarks, would be allowed on YouTube. Similarly, what would happen to another viral video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which was slowed down to suggest that she was in an inebriated state?
  • What about deepfakes? There isn’t enough clarity if deepfakes — highly convincing videos doctored using AI/ML — would also be taken down.
  • What happens to parody/satire channels? A number of creators on YouTube run parody/satirical channels, where most of their content revolves around impersonating people. YouTube’s policy suggests that such content would also be taken down, and channels posting such content would be terminated.
    • Facebook’s policy on dealing with doctored videos, for instance, had said that content that is satirical in nature would not be taken down.

Big tech attempts to battle deepfake videos

  • In October 2019, Twitter had said that it was working on a new policy to “address synthetic and manipulated media” on the platform and had sought comments on the same. Twitter is yet to come out with the policy.
  • In September 2019, Facebook and Microsoft announced the Deepfake Detection Challenge (DFDC) to produce technology that can be used to detect a deepfake videos.
    • In October 2019, Amazon Web Services said that it would work with Facebook and Microsoft on the challenge and contribute up to $1 million in AWS credits to researchers and academics over the next two years.
  • In September 2019, Google released a large dataset of visual deepfakes in order to aid researchers to directly support deepfake detection efforts.