Big Tech’s various efforts to abdicate responsibility for the hate and disinformation being spread on their platforms have been a hot topic in the lead-up to the 2020 election, particularly when it comes to political advertising—a recent clip of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilling Mark Zuckerberg about fact-checking political ads on Facebook went viral by exposing the unacceptable ease with which disinformation can be disseminated on such ubiquitous websites. Only under intense public pressure have companies like Zuckerberg’s begun to re-evaluate their hands-off approaches, the latest result of which was revealed on a recent episode of 60 Minutes.
Asked by Lesley Stahl whether YouTube has taken down any Trump ads, CEO Susan Wojcicki replied, “There are ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube,” directing Stahl to the company’s transparency report for specific examples. In reviewing said report, CBS News found that over 300 Trump ads had been removed from Google and YouTube, “mostly over the summer, for violating company policy.” Though they were able to see how many days the ads ran before being pulled—”Typically, ads ran a few days before being yanked, suggesting they reached the target audience before removal”—CBS News wasn’t able to view the ads themselves, nor find out what policy or policies the ads actually violated, noting, “We found very little transparency in the transparency report.”
When Stahl pointed out to Wojcicki that “conservatives think that you discriminate against them,” the YouTube CEO responded:
Well, first of all there are lots of very successful conservative creators on YouTube … Our systems, our algorithms, they don’t have any concept of understanding what’s a Democrat, what’s a Republican. They don’t have any concept of political bias built into them in any way. And we do hear this criticism from all sides. We also have people who come from more liberal backgrounds who complain about discrimination. And so I think that no matter who you are, we are trying to enforce our policies in a consistent way for everybody.
“Trying” is better than nothing at all, but massive platforms like Wojcicki’s have allowed far too much vitriol to fester on their watch already. And with transparency like Google and YouTube’s, we’re left to merely imagine what kind of nonsense the Trump team was stuffing into his followers’ skulls before the almighty algorithms eventually intervened.
Watch the key piece of Stahl and Wojcicki’s discussion below.