YouTube can always improve its work to combat misinformation, Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki said, touting the company’s progress over the past six years — even as falsehoods about the Covid-19 pandemic and elections have surged on the platform.
“There will always be incentives for people to be creating misinformation,” Wojcicki said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she touched on everything from the war in Ukraine to her views on Roe v. Wade. “The challenge will be to keep staying ahead of that and making sure that we are understanding what they are.”
The video-streaming service owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google has long been challenged by falsehoods and conspiracies. In January, a global coalition of fact checkers penned an open letter calling on YouTube to take effective action on misinformation, stating the company had largely escaped scrutiny in spite of problematic content appearing daily on the platform. In April, a report from the City University of New York and Dartmouth College found that YouTube had enabled audiences of resentful people to easily and repeatedly access extremist content on the platform.
Wojcicki said she hadn’t seen that report, “but there are certainly many other reports that give us a good grade there.” She added that in enforcing its policies, which aim to reduce the spread of borderline and harmful misinformation while promoting authoritative sources, YouTube was missing only about 10 to 12 content-violating videos per 100,000 views of videos on the platform, according to its latest research.
Wojcicki also described the challenges faced by YouTube in moderating content during global crises, including the war on Ukraine. In 2019, facing public criticism that it had provided a platform for hateful ideologies, the company reversed its stance on allowing the denial of violent events like the Holocaust. Earlier this year, Wojcicki said, the video site extended that policy to disallow content that promoted the denial or trivialization of the Russia-Ukraine war, blocking channels connected to Russian state-backed outlets RT and Sputnik across Europe.
But YouTube continues to operate in Russia in order to deliver independent news into the country, Wojcicki said. “The average citizen in Russia can access, for free, the same information that you can access here from Davos,” she said.
What the video platform won’t give up, Wojcicki said, is its commitment to free speech. In response to a question on her views about the US Supreme Court’s move to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, which has cemented abortion rights in the country for half a century, Wojcicki said she personally believed that women should have the right to choose when to become a mother.
“To take away a law and a right that we’ve had for almost 50 years will be a big setback for women, but that’s my personal view,” Wojcicki said. “Running a company that has that really focused on free speech, we want to make sure that we’re enabling a broad set of opinions that everyone has a right to express their point of view — provided they meet our community guidelines.”