Online video platform YouTube has started banning content that includes information obtained by “hacking” and that “may interfere with democratic processes, such as elections and censuses,” the company announced on Aug. 13.
It’s not clear how the company plans to determine whether any particular information was hacked, what the intent is behind including it, and what qualifies as election interference.
Google didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions.
The policy’s most obvious target seems to be preventing a repetition of the Wikileaks release in 2016 of emails allegedly hacked from the Democratic National Committee and the account of John Podesta, then-head of Hillary Clinton’s election campaign.
Special counsel Robert Mueller accused Russian agents of the hacking as part of a probe into 2016 election interference. The YouTube policy, however, doesn’t say a hack needs to be part of a foreign operation for the resulting information to get banned.
YouTube’s announcement comes amid a ramping up of content policing by Google and social media companies in the lead-up to the election. The tighter controls have been advocated by Democrat lawmakers, while Republicans have complained that the policies are enforced unevenly and sometimes designed to disproportionately curb conservative speech.
Google has maintained that its products are designed and operated to be politically neutral. But leaked internal documents as well as employees speaking out or caught on hidden camera have indicated that the company is pushing a political agenda onto its users in an effort that one employee described as “preventing the next Trump situation.”
In May, YouTube admitted that it had been deleting from its comment section some Chinese phrases critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The company blamed an “error” in “enforcement systems” and stated that it quickly investigated the issue when made aware of it. It had, in fact, already been alerted about the issue in October 2019, The Verge reported.
The Trump administration is meanwhile pushing to strip internet platforms of some legal protections if they are found to be policing user content in bad faith, such as when content restrictions are “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service; or … taken after failing to provide adequate notice, reasoned explanation, or a meaningful opportunity to be heard.”
Meanwhile, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) are investigating Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon for potential violations of antitrust law.
A partnership of 50 U.S. states and territories, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, also is reviewing Google’s practices, while a separate bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in eight states is looking at possible antitrust concerns with Facebook.
The Justice Department has since hired outside litigators as part of its examinations, an indication the department is preparing an antitrust suit against Google, according to a recent report from Fox Business.
Bowen Xiao contributed to this report.