Why Is YouTube Labeling State-Funded News Sources

If there’s one frustration people often have, it’s that they don’t know what news sources they can trust. While it’s naive to think that any broadcaster can be trusted entirely, there are some that are more worthy of the benefit of the doubt than others, surely. YouTube took this into account when it planned a new feature that will label state-funded news sources. There’s a reason why YouTube is doing this, and there might be questions as to whether it will be effective in its goals.

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It’s no secret that state-funded media can be a bit sketchy at times. We don’t instinctively look to North Korea’s Ri Chun-hee (its state media) for reliable reporting because we know that the country is under an autocratic regime. However, there are other countries – like the United States and Russia – with their own public broadcasters among other private entities.

While it’s rare to see North Korean-style propaganda broadcast in these countries’ public entities, it’s difficult for them to remain objective, since they risk skewing their reporting to be more sympathetic to the state’s interests. Private broadcasters might suffer from this dilemma as well, but they have less incentive to do so.

YouTube sees this, and it wants to warn its visitors about the risk of propaganda coming from certain state-funded entities. Their announcement on February 2, 2018, reads:

… today we will start rolling out notices below videos uploaded by news broadcasters that receive some level of government or public funding. Our goal is to equip users with additional information to help them better understand the sources of news content that they choose to watch on YouTube.

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We are still unsure how YouTube’s notice will look, but if it is not obvious enough, we run into our first problem: users on the platform may not even notice it there.

We also need to take into account the idea that private broadcasters could sometimes be influenced — not by state funding but with other maneuvers — to report in a skewed manner. While we can grant some credibility to the idea that news agencies funded by government can fall into a trap of bias, there are situations in which private broadcasters also have biases of their own.

Because of human nature, it is impossible to rely on one entity to point out what is and isn’t objective. Despite this conundrum, warning people that a source has received state funding is actually one step in the right direction.

To understand why, we have to use an analogy: it is considered unethical for doctors to operate on their own family members because it compromises their objectivity. Their feelings towards their family members will make them act in ways they otherwise wouldn’t with any other patient.

The same could be said about state-funded broadcasters: their strong bond with government will make them broadcast news in ways that private and otherwise independent broadcasters wouldn’t.

But what if a company buys the Washington Post? What would the Washington Post’s coverage of that company be like when news arises?

Do you think that YouTube made a good decision here? Is this enough to stop propaganda? Or is the company missing something? Tell us all about it in a comment.

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