YouTube Videos with False Information About COVID-19 Have Been Collecting Ad Revenue
An Investigation Discovered Ads Served into Videos Touting “Remedies” and “Cures,” Despite Promising to Monetize Only Quality Content
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 3, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), revealed that YouTube has been running ads on several videos that contain misleading information about COVID-19. TTP’s investigation uncovered monetized videos touting “cures” and “protections,” including fruit-based home remedies and meditative music, among others, despite the platform’s insistence that videos containing misleading information about the virus are ineligible for monetization. Notably, the ads found alongside these videos were sponsored by well-known entities including President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, Facebook, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and streaming startup Quibi.
CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “It has long been known that YouTube is a cesspool of misinformation, but it is now clear that, at the height of a global health crisis, YouTube is making money from videos that contain misleading claims. YouTube’s pledge to emphasize truthful videos about the coronavirus is nothing but a Potemkin promise. The public should be alarmed that YouTube is continuing to make money from the spread of misinformation during this difficult period.”
When the coronavirus began to spread, Google-owned YouTube prohibited ads on all videos regarding the epidemic, adhering to its “sensitive events” policy. This longstanding directive states that videos about certain events, including global health crises, are ineligible for ad revenue. On March 11, however, YouTube announced that it would exempt videos from certain news partners and self-certifying users to ensure creators could upload “quality videos in a sustainable way.”
TTP, however, found several monetized videos promoting misinformation. One video, entitled “Cure Corona Virus with this home remedy,” walks viewers through the process of making a blended shake using only lime, cucumber, and Aloe vera. Another, labeled “Koronawirus, jak przeżyć CoronaVirus, how to survive,” is a Polish-language video that advises viewers to avoid Chinese restaurants in order to protect themselves from the virus. A third, whose title begins, “CORONAVIRUS: Naturally Boost Your Immune System NOW!…” is simply an hour long recording of meditative music. YouTube removed most of the videos in question after a reporter from The Guardian, who had been given access to the findings by TTP, shared them with YouTube for comment.
It is unclear whether these videos passed through YouTube’s “self-certification” program successfully, or circumvented the program altogether, but they clearly do not comply with the platform’s policy prohibiting ads for videos that contain false information.
Mr. Stevens continued, “YouTube’s algorithms are fine-tuned to serve false and misleading content to its users. Now, YouTube is putting money into the pockets of creators that promote false information at the expense of major American brands. Advertisers should stop sending their marketing dollars to YouTube since the company cannot ensure their ads run alongside legitimate content.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.