Following a year in which YouTube has repeatedly promoted conspiracy-theory videos during breaking news events like the shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas, the company announced on Monday a slew of new features it hopes will make news on the platform more reliable and less susceptible to manipulation. The company is also investing $25 million in grants to news organizations looking to expand their video operations, as part of a larger, $300 million program sponsored by YouTube's sister company, Google.
According to YouTube executives, the goal is to identify authoritative news sources, bring those videos to the top of users' feeds, and support quality journalism with tools and funding that will help news organizations more effectively reach their audiences. The challenge is deciding what constitutes authority when the public seems more divided than ever on which news sources to trust—or whether to trust the traditional news industry at all.
Among the many changes YouTube announced Monday are substantive tweaks to the tools it uses to recommend news-related videos. In the coming weeks, YouTube will start to display an information panel above videos about developing stories, which will include a link to an article that Google News deems to be most relevant and authoritative on the subject. The move is meant to help prevent hastily recorded hoax videos from rising to the top of YouTube's recommendations. And yet, Google News hardly has a spotless record when it comes to promoting authoritative content. Following the 2016 election, the tool surfaced a Wordpress blog falsely claiming Donald Trump won the popular vote as one of the top results for the term "final election results."
YouTube is also expanding a feature, currently available in 17 countries, that shows up on the homepage during breaking news events. This section of the homepage will only surface videos from sources YouTube considers authoritative. The same goes for the videos that YouTube recommends viewers watch next.