YouTube Moves to Remove Videos With False Allegations of Fraud in the 2018 Election

By Patrícia Campos Mello

March 22nd, 2022

YouTube announced that it will begin removing all videos containing false allegations of fraud, errors or technical problems in the 2018 election, even retrospectively, affecting those already posted on the platform.

The update to YouTube’s electoral policies was announced on Tuesday the 22nd, in the wake of multiple criticisms of the platform’s lack of actions in combating electoral disinformation.

President Jair Bolsonaro (PL) and his allies feature in several videos with unproven claims of electoral fraud and electronic ballot box tampering in 2018; all this content is subject to removal.

Previously, the ban on content with false claims of widespread fraud, after final election results have been officially certified, applied only to past US presidential and to the German federal elections of 2021. Now, the 2018 Brazilian elections are also included.

YouTube has also updated its policy banning content that could lead to voter suppression.

Previously, the rules were tightly focused on the United States.

Those rules banned videos claiming that “voter affiliation to a political party was visible on the mail-in voting envelope” (there is no mail-in voting in Brazil) and “incorrect claims that the vote of those without citizenship determined the outcome of past elections” (rumors of undocumented migrants voting are frequent in the US).

Now, the platform has included a ban referring specifically to Brazil: “incorrectly claiming that Brazilian electronic voting machines were hacked by hackers in the past to change people’s votes.”

Starting this Tuesday, YouTube will begin analyzing videos that address the topic of alleged electoral fraud in 2018 using artificial intelligence and human moderation.

The platform did not specify whether it will have additional personnel or more investment in artificial intelligence to moderate the videos.

YouTube will also evaluate complaints from users, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE), and platform partner institutions. Users who have videos removed may appeal.

According to the company, video news or reports which discuss the vulnerability of ballot boxes with context provided will not be taken down.

However, videos that do not provide context and falsely claim ballot box tampering will be deleted, even on news media channels.

Additionally, users searching for election-related videos or electronic voting machines will see an information panel at the top of the search results, or below the e-voting-related videos, with a link to official information from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE).

There already are similar “context panels” for Covid-19, for example.

Bolsonaro has been stating since the start of his term that there were fraud in electronic voting in 2018, and that he actually would have won the election in the first round.

At the end of July 2021, the President went live on social media to present what he claimed was evidence for his allegations, but quoted only rumors that have been circulating for years on the internet and that have already been debunked.

The TSE opened an administrative enquiry to investigate the conduct of Bolsonaro, who, presenting no evidence, claims that the electoral system is vulnerable to fraud.

The new removal policies only apply to allegations of fraud in the 2018 election, not to claims that the 2022 election will be rigged. According to the platform, the removal policy will only apply once an official result has been certified by the appropriate authorities.

In the United States, YouTube has been criticized for taking too long to act on videos spreading misinformation about the 2020 US presidential election.

It wasn’t until December 12th, 2020, more than a month after the election, that YouTube announced that it would remove videos with allegations that widespread fraud had influenced the election.

On the same date, the platform reported it had banned more than 8,000 channels since September 2020.

On January 6th, 2021, supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol to prevent the certification of the election result, which they said had been rigged. The invasion left five dead. The attackers organized themselves using social networks.

In Brazil, the view of the platform is that the process of certification of electoral results by the TSE is centralized and much quicker. So, once a result has been certified, the platform can announce the removal of content falsely claiming that there was fraud in 2022.

There is also a view that, throughout the election campaign, other disinformation content that attacks civic integrity may be included in the removal policy.

Users will not be penalized for videos that have already posted, but those who post videos with banned content going forward, with a one month adaptation period, will be subject to the platform’s strikes. Whoever receives three strikes in a 90-day period will have their channel deleted.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Tow Center

Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism