Labels on State-Sponsored Content: YouTube’s Failed Promise

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In February 2018, in response to criticisms of spreading misinformation, YouTube rolled out its plan to label state-funded media outlets on its platform. The plan was for any video produced by a state-sponsored outlet to have a message at the bottom of the video explaining who was behind the funding of the content. The content that is created by state-sponsored media outlets is often used for propaganda purposes and can lead to the dangerous spread of misinformation. ProPublica reported in November 2019 that many state-sponsored media outlets continue to post videos on YouTube without any identifying labels, including content from countries including Russia, China, Iran, and even the United States.

As problems with labelling arose, YouTube received many reports from different organizations alerting them to content that met its criteria as state-sponsored media but had not yet ben labeled. ProPublica alerted YouTube to the existence of 57 state-sponsored channels that were releasing videos without warnings about their funding. In response, YouTube labelled 35 of the 57 channels but declined to comment on the status of the 22 channels it chose not to label. Of the 57 channels YouTube proposed, ‘Russia 1’ was one of the most popular channels to not have a state-sponsored label. ‘Russia 1’ was a popular state-owned television channel in Russia that had a large YouTube following. Some 353,000 people were subscribed to the channel, and YouTube failed to keep them notified about the state-sponsored content they were consuming.

YouTube has acted similarly with reports of non-labelled state-sponsored channels from other organizations such as the United States Agency for Global Media and Reuters. Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor at Syracuse University who studies social media, told ProPublica about the dangers of a company like YouTube enforcing their own rules against misinformation: “It’s a huge issue when people around the world don’t know when they’re interacting with media produced by governments. When corporations like YouTube don’t have mandates in the form of regulation, how they enforce and enact their own policies will be less than stellar.”

With the exception of a Business Insider article released three days after the ProPublica report, there has been a lack of corporate news reporting on YouTube’s failed promise.

Source: Ava Kofman, “YouTube Promised to Label State-Sponsored Videos But Doesn’t Always Do So,” ProPublica, November 22, 2019,

Student Researcher: Will Clausel (North Central College)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)