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YouTube will use Wikipedia to try and solve its conspiracy theory problem

YouTube will flag conspiracy theory videos with additional information from Wikipedia in an effort to tackle the spread of disinformation on its platform.

The feature, which will launch “in the coming months” will at first focus on “well-known” conspiracy theories that have significant debate on YouTube, for example videos suggesting that Nasa’s Moon landing was a hoax.

“We will show as a companion unit next to the video information from Wikipedia showing information about the event,” said the company’s CEO, Susan Wojcicki, on stage at the film and technology festival SXSW.

The video-sharing platform has faced criticism from victims and survivors of mass shootings for not only failing to clamp down on disinformation, but profiting from it, since YouTube takes a cut of the revenue from advertising on all videos.

Last month, a clip falsely claiming that survivors of the Parkland shooting were “crisis actors” briefly became YouTube’s No 1 trending video. This forced one survivor David Hogg to tell CNN: “I’m not a crisis actor. I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that.”

It is not clear how the Wikipedia unit will help during these kinds of breaking news events, since it will depend on YouTube being on top of new conspiracy theories emerging on the platform – something it’s not done effectively so far – and on the user-generated Wikipedia article being accurate as the news unfolds.

Even Wikipedia acknowledges it’s not best equipped to handle breaking news events: “Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, not a newspaper … as a result, our processes and principles are designed to work well with the usually contemplative process of building an encyclopaedia, not sorting out the oft-conflicting and mistaken reporting common during disaster and other breaking news events.”

“We’re always exploring new ways to battle misinformation on YouTube,” said a YouTube spokeswoman, highlighting that Wikipedia will be just one of the third-party sources featured in the companion unit.

After the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more, videos falsely claiming the attack was a “hoax” and a “false flag” earned millions of views on YouTube, causing great distress to those affected.

At the time YouTube said it had tweaked its search algorithms in an effort to better promote reputable sources. However, when a gunman killed 26 people at a church in Texas the following month, search results on YouTube amplified the false news that Devin Kelley, the man accused of the massacre, was linked to anti-fascist and leftwing movements.

“There is still more work to do, but we’re making progress,” said a YouTube spokesperson at the time.

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