YouTube under scrutiny for approving false information ads on India’s elections

The investigation involved sending 48 English, Hindi, and Telugu ads that spread falsehoods about the upcoming election. YouTube approved all the ads, but the senders withdrew them for safety reasons.

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A recent report by research organisations Access Now and Global Witness revealed that nearly 50 ads filled with misinformation aimed at disrupting India’s elections or impeding voters were approved by YouTube despite clearly violating the platform’s policies on election misinformation. The investigation, titled ‘”Votes will not be counted”: Indian election disinformation ads and YouTube,’ found ads in English, Hindi, and Telugu spreading falsehoods about the upcoming election, such as false claims about voting methods and age requirements.

Although all the ads were ultimately withdrawn by their senders before publication due to safety concerns, YouTube’s approval of these ads has raised concerns about its role in ensuring free and fair elections. Namrata Maheshwari, senior policy counsel at Access Now, emphasised YouTube’s failure to implement disinformation policies, especially as India approaches its crucial election year in 2024.

In response to the investigation, YouTube’s parent company, Google, stated that none of the ads ran on its systems and reaffirmed that its policies are enforced year-round. The company explained that its enforcement process involves multiple layers to ensure ad compliance, indicating that initial approval does not guarantee the publication of ads that later violate policies. However, the report underscores the need for platforms like YouTube to effectively implement and enforce their policies to safeguard electoral integrity, particularly in the face of increasing misinformation surrounding elections globally.

Why does it matter?

The incident highlights the ongoing challenges social media platforms face in combating misinformation and ensuring the integrity of democratic processes. As the spread of false information continues to threaten elections worldwide, there is growing pressure on tech companies to enhance their efforts in detecting and removing misleading content, especially during critical election periods.