NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today led a group of his Senate colleagues in urging YouTube to remove election misinformation videos that boost false fraud claims, seek to delegitimize the 2020 election results, sow public discord and fuel civil unrest.

“[T]he platform is now home to an ‘onslaught of videos aiming to undermine the legitimacy of the election,’” the senators wrote in a letter to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, quoting a Bloomberg article citing media and political researchers. “These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration. Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”

The senators also called on the social media platform to implement prohibitions on misinformation videos ahead of the Georgia run-off elections and for all future elections. YouTube’s current policy, adopted in August, fails to prohibit users from posting false content on election results or how election officials count votes.

“The outcome of these races will determine what party controls the U.S. Senate; and for that reason, the races are expected to garner significant national interest,” the senators wrote. “YouTube and its industry peers must take responsibility and immediately stop the spread of misinformation and manipulated media on their platforms.”

Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) also signed the letter.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below. 

Dear Ms. Wojcicki:

We write to express our deep concern regarding the proliferation of misinformation on your platform during and immediately following the 2020 elections and in light of the upcoming Georgia run-off elections. We urge you to immediately remove all election outcome misinformation and take aggressive steps to implement prohibitions, as other social media companies have done, regarding outcomes in future elections.

In August 2020 when YouTube updated its policy regarding misinformation and manipulated media, the platform notably refused to prohibit users from posting false content on the outcome of the election or the manner in which state and local officials counted votes.[1] As a result, the platform is now home to an “onslaught of videos aiming to undermine the legitimacy of the election.”[2] For example, one YouTube video claiming evidence of voter fraud in Michigan has more than five million views,[3] despite any evidence of such fraud.[4] These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration.  Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.

As you know, on January 5, 2021, Georgia voters will cast their ballots in two runoff elections for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats. The outcome of these races will determine what party controls the U.S. Senate; and for that reason, the races are expected to garner significant national interest.[5] YouTube and its industry peers must take responsibility and immediately stop the spread of misinformation and manipulated media on their platforms. 

We respectfully request responses to the following questions by December 8, 2020.

1)    Will YouTube commit to removing content containing false or misleading information as to the outcome of the 2020 elections and the upcoming elections in Georgia? If not, why?

2)    What steps has YouTube implemented since announcing its prohibition on voter suppression content?

3)    What steps will YouTube take to ensure that the platform is free from content that suppresses voting, incites violence, or makes false claims concerning the casting of ballots surrounding the January 2021 Georgia run-off elections? 

4)    Please provide our offices with any YouTube research concerning the platform’s amplification of groups or organizations using YouTube to spread election misinformation.

5)    How much in ad revenue did YouTube receive from videos showing election result misinformation?

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

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[1] https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801973?; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/technology/election-misinformation-continues-staying-up-on-youtube.html

[2] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-10/youtube-election-loophole-lets-some-false-trump-win-videos-spread

[3] Id.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/us/politics/voting-fraud.html

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/us/politics/georgia-senate-runoff-explainer.html