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On Dec. 9, 2020, YouTube enacted a ban on videos that falsely claimed then-President Trump won the U.S. presidential election. Since then, according to the platform, it has removed “tens of thousands” of videos that violated the policy.
As of June 2, 2023, YouTube has reversed that decision: The video giant announced that it “will stop removing content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors or glitches occurred in the 2020 and other past U.S. Presidential elections.”
Why is YouTube making this change? The Google-owned service, in an unsigned blog post Friday, tried to explain it this way: “In the current environment, we find that while removing this content does curb some misinformation, it could also have the unintended effect of curtailing political speech without meaningfully reducing the risk of violence or other real-world harm.”
YouTube also noted, “As with any update to our policies, we carefully deliberated this change.”
Trump — who has repeatedly and falsely claimed he won the 2020 election — is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2024 U.S. presidential election. On Jan. 12, 2021, YouTube suspended Trump’s channel after determining it violated the site’s policy against inciting violence, then reinstated it this past March, saying it felt that letting voters “hear equally from major national candidates” outweighed any ongoing threat of violence.
With the 2024 election season underway, according to YouTube’s latest blog post, “The ability to openly debate political ideas, even those that are controversial or based on disproven assumptions, is core to a functioning democratic society — especially in the midst of election season.”
That said, YouTube said its other election misinformation policies remain in place, including those that prohibit content “aiming to mislead voters about the time, place, means, or eligibility requirements for voting” as well as false claims that could “materially discourage voting, including those disputing the validity of voting by mail” and videos that encourages others to interfere with “democratic processes.”
“Here’s what isn’t changing: We are ensuring that when people come to YouTube looking for news and information about elections, they see content from authoritative sources prominently in search and recommendations,” YouTube said in the blog post. In the wake of the 2020 U.S. election, YouTube said, it discovered that videos from authoritative sources like news outlets represented the most viewed and most recommended election videos on YouTube.