How YouTube approved ads promoting disinformation on India’s election – Report


A new investigation by Access Now and Global Witness has found that YouTube, a Google-owned video-sharing platform appears unprepared to screen ads especially ones that contain misinformation as elections set to take place in India and other countries in the world.

According to the report, the platform approved content including baseless allegations of electoral fraud, lies about voting procedures, and attacks on the integrity of the electoral process despite its policy to check content before an ad can be run.

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YouTube is used by 462 million Indians and the platform holds immense responsibility to ensure it is not misused to spread misinformation and undermine democratic participation.

The report stated that YouTube approved 100 per cent of fake ads placed by the investigators that were intended to spread misinformation about the elections in India.

“Due to an increase in infectious diseases, all voters will be automatically sent a mail-in ballot for the 2024 elections. Stay home and stay safe,” one of the tested adverts said in English and two official Indian languages, Hindi and Telugu.

Other tested content falsely claimed that the largest opposition parties were disqualified in the 2024 elections and that voters over 50 would have their votes counted double.

The researchers created a short video for each individual text, displayed it in black font over a coloured background, and submitted 48 clips to YouTube as ad creatives in February and March 2024 using three accounts. The ads never aired as the publication date was scheduled for a faraway date to prevent accidents, and were later withdrawn. But YouTube approved them all.

“We allowed up to a day for the review process to complete, given YouTube states that ‘most ads are reviewed within one business day.’ Upon checking, YouTube approved 100% (48/48) of the ads for publication,” the report by Access Now and Global Witness reads.

With AI-enabled tools threatening democracy, four billion voters are casting their votes in major elections around the world in 2024, including India, the US, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

“By failing to implement its own policies around disinformation, YouTube raises serious questions about its role in ensuring that the upcoming Indian elections are free and fair. Heading into the crucial election year of 2024, tech platforms made tall promises about safeguarding electoral integrity, but the proof is in the pudding – YouTube greenlit all 48 ads violating its policies, submitted as part of our investigation,” Namrata Maheshwari, Senior Policy Counsel at Access Now said.

Both organizations urge YouTube to “correct course before the elections kick off in India” by employing content governance systems, conducting a thorough evaluation of the advertising approval process, investing more resources toward moderation, and consulting with civil society, journalists, fact-checkers, and other stakeholders.

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Nurudeen Akewushola is a fact-checker with FactCheckHub. He has authored several fact checks which have contributed to the fight against information disorder. You can reach him via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 via Twitter.


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