YouTube bans misleading election videos, ‘birther’-esque theories, and deepfakes… just in time for Iowa primary

3 Feb, 2020

YouTube has banned “manipulated or doctored” videos relating to the US election, as well as deepfakes and “birther”-type conspiracy theories which question candidates’ eligibility for office, with the primaries already under way.

Google’s video-sharing platform has stepped up to protect the damsel in distress that is the American electoral process, announcing a blanket ban on deepfakes and “content that advances false claims related to the technical eligibility requirements” of candidates on Monday. Technically-manipulated or doctored content designed to mislead users about elections is also banned under the new policy, which arrives too late to impact most voters in Iowa as they head to the first caucus of election season.

YouTube also warned that channels that “attempt to impersonate” another individual or channel, “misrepresent their country of origin,” or hide links to government actors would be removed, as would those attempting to artificially inflate their views, likes, or comment counts. Accusations of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” have been used by Facebook and Twitter to deplatform politically-inconvenient accounts in the past. A “borderline” content policy that calls for suppressing videos from channels that don’t actually break the platform’s rules has also led to a drop in traffic for many content-creators who fail to toe the centrist line.

The rules update came with a disclaimer that would no doubt amuse many of the channels that have been removed from YouTube in recent months without warning or explanation; it reads: “As always, we enforce our policies consistently, without regard to a video’s political viewpoint.

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Somehow, “claims that a candidate is not eligible to hold office based on false information about citizenship status requirements to hold office in that country” in YouTube’s blog post became “birtherism” in reporting on the policy by the Daily Beast. The wording was subsequently picked up by other outlets eager to mock YouTube for being stuck in 2012.

US President Donald Trump, once the most prominent proponent of the ‘birther’ theory, backed off it two months before the 2016 election, admitting Obama had been born in the US and pointing to rival Hillary Clinton as the original source of the rumor. It has only rarely cropped up since, notably in the rhetoric of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe “show me your papers” Arpaio.

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