YouTube Marking Channels With Government Funding Disclosures

(TFC) — YouTube began marking channels with disclosures as to whether or not they receive government funding. The move represented yet another measure by the company and others to contain the spread of news content.

Highlighting government funding to channels or media outlets went into effect on YouTube a few days ago. According to Rappler, the changes are currently active in the United States, though, more regions will likely follow. From now on, a gray exclamation mark directly beneath the video will state which government funds that channel. Examples of outlets which have already been flagged include RT and Al Jazeera.

YouTube representatives stated the changes are intended to “equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch”, Rappler reports. “It is not a comment by YouTube”, the video platform said in a post, “on the publisher’s or video’s editorial direction or a government’s editorial influence.” The video giant states a funding disclosure doesn’t affect any “features of the video or monetization eligibility”.

This comes in the wake of Senate investigations into large internet companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet—the umbrella company covering Google and YouTube—regarding misinformation spread. Months of President Donald Trump lambasting media outlets as “fake news”, and accusations that he’s a Russian puppet, have landed us here.

Meanwhile, Facebook has changed its algorithms to suppress news articles and focus on friends and family. Similar complaints have surfaced from Twitter, and search engines like Google and Yahoo. The author’s YouTube channel was affected months ago with video’s being flagged and demonetized. Eventually, I was informed the channel itself, regardless of what I post, was demonetized.

Although YouTube argues these actions relate to the number of views your channel gets, or whether content it’s advertiser-friendly, that’s not fully accurate. At least one video was targeted with demonetization on my channel despite not being vulgar or offensive. It was, however, an interview I conducted with a pastor regarding a local police shooting which many felt was covered up.

YouTube offered to review my video, but only videos drawing enough views per week could be reviewed. If my video isn’t viewed regularly enough to qualify to fight your action, then why target it? Demonetization also limits your video’s viewing potential by burying it in the suggestions. The system itself ensures once a video is flagged, it likely won’t bounce back. 

Throughout what many YouTube creators called the “Ad-pocolypse”, the video giant affirmed the focus was keeping advertiser dollars. It’s a harder argument to sell as the company moves into marking news channels with government funding sources. Countless onlookers have already accused YouTube of conducting systematic censorship against adversarial news outlets. Organizations from Al Jazeera and RT, which are now getting funding disclosures, to outlets like Democracy Now and TYT Network.

Some may point out a double standard in marking these outlets with funding disclosures, and not FOX News or CNN. FOX is known to have stock and financial connections with the Saudi government, and the American government is known to fund some others. Thus far some of these bigger names haven’t yet been affected by YouTube’s funding disclosures. In that case, is this a move for transparency? Or is it the start of a fight for the hearts and minds of news viewers via the news feed?