Conservative Party lawmaker Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee in the House of Commons, said YouTube’s proposal risked roping in public, independent broadcasters, such as the BBC, alongside state-backed propaganda outlets, such as Russia’s RT.
“By mixing up RT and the BBC together, do you think that is making things easier for consumers to navigate or muddying the waters?” Collins asked.
YouTube’s global head of public policy, Juniper Downs, said that the company had developed its plan to use two different labels — one for news outlets that receive government funding, and another for public broadcasters — after consulting media outlets, including the BBC. The feedback from the outlets is what led YouTube to use two distinct labels, she said.
The labels, which will appear underneath YouTube videos, will also include a link to the Wikipedia pages of the outlets.
But Collins doubted that users would bother to click through. “There is a degree of confusion here,” he said. “It’s not just about the ownership structure or model of the organization, but the way it’s run and the degree of editorial independence it has, which exists at the BBC and doesn’t exist at RT.”
The British lawmakers were in the United States to collect evidence in a broad inquiry into the effects of fake news and misinformation on British elections and society. But unlike typical congressional hearings featuring tech execs, the British visitors were blunt and largely antagonistic, discarding the reverence that U.S. politicians usually display towards titans of industry. The members of Parliament grilled the policy chiefs of Google, Facebook and Twitter for not doing enough to curb false news on their platforms and questioned their commitment to democratic values even as their operations generate staggering revenue and claim global reach.
Collins suggested YouTube reconsider its label plan. “This may unwittingly sow more confusion rather than adding the transparency you have asked for,” he said.
The U.S. public broadcaster PBS has also argued that YouTube’s decision is misguided. “Labeling PBS a ‘publicly funded broadcaster’ is both vague and misleading,” a spokesman told The Washington Post in a statement last week, when the labels were announced. “YouTube’s proposed labeling could wrongly imply that the government has influence over PBS content, which is prohibited by statute. If YouTube’s intent is to create clarity and better understanding, this is a step in the wrong direction.”
U.S. users will be the first to see the state-funded-media labels pinned to YouTube videos. And Downs said the company plans to expand the initiative, which follows efforts to surface more content from authoritative news sources on the popular video service. The labels will be displayed in YouTube search results, and they will not affect any video features or change the criteria for enabling advertisements on videos, the company said.