Technology

Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff

Democratic senators are urging YouTube to remove videos spreading election misinformation and to step up efforts to combat misinformation ahead of the Georgia Senate runoffs.

The senators sent a letter Tuesday calling on YouTube to detail steps the company will take surrounding the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs, which will decide which party controls the Senate. 

"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," wrote Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Gary Peters (Mich) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.). 

"YouTube and its industry peers must take responsibility and immediately stop the spread of misinformation and manipulated media on their platforms," they added. 

The senators said videos on YouTube spreading baseless claims of election fraud "undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of" President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration. 

The senators underscored their letter by noting President Trump's refusal to concede may lead to real-world consequences from the online misinformation. 

"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," they wrote. 

The senators asked YouTube to detail its plans to mitigate the impact of content that will spread false information casting doubt on ballots surrounding the Georgia runoff. 

They also asked the company to commit to removing content containing false or misleading information as to the 2020 general election and the upcoming elections in Georgia. 

YouTube spokesperson Ivy Choi defended the platform's handling of content surrounding the election, but did not confirm that the company would remove election misinformation ahead of the runoff. 

"Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election's results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments," Choi said in a statement in response to the letter.

Choi also said that the company is working to swiftly remove content that violates its policies and connect users with "authoritative information about elections" and said the most popular videos about the election are from "authoritative news organizations."

Tech companies have faced mounting scrutiny over their handling of misinformation around the election. 

A group of Democratic senators on Tuesday sent a separate set of letters to Facebook and Twitter calling on the companies to detail their plans to handle misinformation surrounding the Georgia runoff. 

Tech CEOs have frequently faced questioning from senators this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey faced the Senate Judiciary Committee last week over Republicans' allegations of anti-conservative bias. During the hearing, however, Democrats pressed the tech CEOs on their efforts to combat misinformation and hate speech. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has also appeared before the Senate, most recently last month alongside Zuckerberg and Dorsey, and has faced similar questions from both sides. But he has largely not had to specifically address questions over Google's subsidiary, and YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, has escaped appearing at Senate hearings to be questioned by senators over the platform's handling of misinformation. 

Georgia's Jan. 5 runoff is crucial. Democrats will have to win both races to gain control of the Senate. 

Rev. Raphael Warnock (D) is facing Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), who was appointed after the retirement of Sen. Johnny Isakson (R), and Democrat Jon Ossoff is facing Sen. David Perdue (R) after both candidates fell short of garnering 50 percent of the vote in the general election.

--Updated at 3:25 p.m.

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