Accuracy in Media

Big Tech is no stranger to controversy, weathering scandals such as the United States federal government demanding Apple create a backdoor to its device encryption system and Facebook’s neutral stance on political advertisements ahead of the 2020 presidential race. Now, YouTube, a video-based social media platform, faces accusations from Greenpeace that its advertisement algorithm is faulty.

Greenpeace, a prominent left-wing environmental group, accused YouTube of featuring Greenpeace advertisements on videos that deny climate change and spread “climate misinformation.” The environmental group made its allegations based on a report that their commercials were being aired on videos that demonstrated climate change skepticism. Greenpeace spokesperson Travis Nichols said, “If we’re going to stop the climate crisis, we need tech and social media companies like YouTube to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

NBC News published an article detailing Greenpeace’s gripes with YouTube, citing a report from the advocacy group Avaaz. We covered Avaaz before, when Avaaz told the mainstream media that it conducted a study that concluded Facebook was permitting disinformation to run “rampant” on its platform. Avaaz did not publish or make available their study at the time, but the mainstream media took their word for it and published articles on its conclusions anyway.

Although Avaaz made its report on YouTube public, it still called into question the group’s leanings and methods. As we reported previously, Avaaz claimed it raises public awareness on public policy issues yet focused primarily on progressive policies. The group said it was a no-frills organization, but its tax returns told a different story. Avaaz received over $19 million in contributions in 2017 and grants and spent under $4 million on salaries, compensation and benefits for its employees. For a community organization, and one that focuses on global issues, it is a wealthy organization that keeps its backers away from the public eye.

NBC News did not bat an eye nor did it do a deep-dive into Avaaz, which it should have done to validate the study’s source. As much as the media criticizes the proliferation of fake news, it should do its due diligence in research sources of information, such as Avaaz. No such effort appeared to be made in researching Avaaz as we have at Accuracy in Media.

Yet Avaaz’s report validated many criticisms from the political Left and Right that YouTube is not doing a good enough job with its algorithms. As NBC News reported, the social media platform’s algorithm boosted videos that espoused conspiracy theories, misinformation and extremist views. Though YouTube said it has made strides in promoting authoritative channels and video content, the company has not made as many strides as the public would like.

Big Tech continues to struggle to sift through authoritative videos and content, while maintaining revenue and respecting freedom of speech. Based on the recent report, YouTube has a long way to go to gain the trust of the political Left when it comes to transparency and promoting accurate information on its platform.

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