Disinformation about electoral fraud is flourishing on YouTube, and right-wing outlets that are most aggressively disseminating false information are attracting new, conservative viewers to the video service, according to new research.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has not removed any videos that question the election results, including content that spread false accusations. Instead, the company has said it is fighting disinformation by increasing authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations while slowing down the spread of what is known as borderline content – videos that violate its guidelines but don't violate them.
However, data from an independent research project called Transparency Tube found that right-wing marginal news channels aggressively promoting unsubstantiated claims of widespread electoral fraud received a greater share of views among conservative YouTube channels than they did before the election.
At the same time, Fox News, which has been more reluctant to promote unsubstantiated allegations of stolen elections, has recorded a percentage among conservative viewers on YouTube, despite being one of the authoritative sources promoted by YouTube.
"Our data shows that YouTube's efforts have had limited impact in slowing or containing the spread of misinformation in elections," said Sam Clark, a researcher behind Transparency Tube. "Despite YouTube's efforts, channels that post election misinformation have seen an increase in traffic."
In September and October, Fox News' YouTube channel had about 17 percent of all views on what Transparency Tube calls "partisan law". This group consists of 2,000+ channels with 10,000+ subscribers focusing on politics with an extremely critical view of Democrats. In the week of November 5-12, that percentage dropped to 13 percent.
Overall, Fox News had 67 million views on YouTube that week, which was less than the average of 77 million weekly views in October. A Fox News spokeswoman pointed to reviews of Neilsen indicating that TV audience ratings rose more than 60 percent in the week after the election compared to the week after the election last year.
"The most popular videos about the elections continue to come from major news organizations," said Andrea Faville, a YouTube spokeswoman. "A number of factors can affect channel viewership: for example, a sudden surge in media coverage, the attention of public figures, or social media sharing outside of the platform."
Newsmax, which has advanced a wide range of electoral conspiracy theories, increased its share of total viewing among conservative channels from less than 1 percent for September and October to 5 percent for the week of November 5-12. The most watched video during the week was an excerpt from Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, who presented what he called evidence of electoral fraud.
Similarly, other channels promoting allegations of election fraud have increased their share. The Next News Network, which went viral with a video promoting falsehood about the Pennsylvania vote, saw its stake rise from 1.5 percent to 2.7 percent after the election, while One America News Network did its Share increased from 0.7 percent previously to 1.5 percent Die Wahl.
The day after the election, an OANN video comment claimed that Mr. Trump had already won the election and that Democrats were "casting Republican ballots, harvesting fake ballots and delaying results" to create confusion.
According to YouTube, a percentage increase for smaller channels isn't an indication of overall growth since a channel like Fox News has such a large subscriber base.
In response to criticism that it didn't do enough to stamp out disinformation, YouTube said 88 percent of the videos in the top 10 results for people searching for election-related content came from high-ranking sources. Airtime for major news networks like ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News, and MSNBC have more than doubled this year from last year.
According to YouTube, Newsmax, OANN and The Next News Network are not considered authoritative sources and are not specially highlighted in recommendations or search results.
YouTube has also announced that it will be tagging election results videos with a statement that The Associated Press launched the presidential race for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a Google vote page.
One YouTube channel that falsely claims evidence of widespread electoral fraud has seen its share of views declined in the conservative corners of YouTube: President Trump's own channel.
On Mr. Trump's YouTube channel, views quadrupled in October from the previous month when his campaign flooded the website with ads to drive traffic to it. With Google freezing political ads after the election, views on Mr. Trump's YouTube channel have fallen sharply.