How the Philippine Election Showed YouTube Can Rewrite the Past

There is a lot of historical misinformation and it is one of the most important issues in the Philippines. This goes from direct denial, saying that atrocities during the martial law regime never happened. And there are also the most extreme claims, such as the myth of the “gold of Mark.” We know that their wealth comes from the theft of the Filipino people and public funds, but let them say [they didn’t steal].

Many reporters and historians were surprised by the level of propaganda and misinformation on YouTube. But my research shows that even in early 2011 there were videos like these, and the trend accelerated after 2016. Even when students search the history of the Philippines on YouTube, these false claims appear.

Is this something you tagged on YouTube?

We [Gaw and coauthor Cheryll Soriano] we did this research in 2020 and had conversations with YouTube executives. We said, “Here’s a list of videos and channels that we mark as historical misinformation and denial.” And they told us they would check on us and come back, but they never did. People who send to the Philippines are not the ones who really have a voice when it comes to writing content moderation policies.

The problem really is how YouTube defines misinformation: it’s a very Western approach. In the Philippines, many political differences are not ideological, they are based on patronage. It’s about what elite family you support and therefore the narrative you subscribe to.

[Ivy Choi, a spokesperson for YouTube, says that its hate speech policy and a number of its election misinformation policies are applicable globally, “and take into account cultural context and nuance.” She says YouTube regularly reviews and updates its policies, and “when developing our policies, we consult with internal and outside experts around the globe, and take their feedback into account.”]

Did you see YouTube delete any of the videos?

No, actually this is the most frustrating part. At the beginning of the election season, they said, “We’re going to be serious about making sure the election is fair and free.” But in the part where they really act on the content, on the platform, there is nothing that happens, nothing significant. Even the historical misinformation I marked two years ago is still there. In fact, since they did not withdraw, these 500,000 subscribers are now 2 million. So there’s this exponential gain in these channels and videos because the platform didn’t touch them.

If videos are popular, they can get brand sponsorships. And since they have a lot of subscribers and talk about a very prominent topic, there are a lot of opinions. And that’s what YouTube pays for: they’re paying a little for misinformation.

[YouTube’s Ivy Choi says that it removes offensive content “as quickly as possible” and that it removed more than 48,000 videos in the Philippines during Q4 2021 for violating its Community Guidelines. YouTube says it is reviewing the specific channels flagged by WIRED, but that it reviews all of the channels in its YouTube’s partner program and removes those that don’t comply with its policies.]

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