YouTube’s stronger election misinformation policies had a spillover effect on Twitter and Facebook, researchers say.

YouTube’s stricter anti-election misinformation policy has been followed by a sharp decline in the prevalence of false and misleading videos on …

YouTube’s stricter anti-election misinformation policy has been followed by a sharp decline in the prevalence of false and misleading videos on Facebook and Twitter, according to a new study published Thursday that underscores the power of the video service on social media.

Researchers at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics saw a sharp increase in YouTube videos of electoral fraud shared on Twitter immediately after the November 3rd election. In November, these videos consistently made up about a third of all election-related video shares on Twitter. The top polling fraud YouTube channels shared on Twitter this month came from sources with a history of misinformation about elections such as Project Veritas, Right Side Broadcasting Network, and One America News Network.

But the proportion of election fraud allegations spread on Twitter fell sharply after December 8th. That was the day YouTube announced it would remove videos that promoted the unsubstantiated theory that widespread errors and fraud changed the outcome of the presidential election. By December 21, the proportion of YouTube voting fraud content shared on Twitter fell below 20 percent for the first time since the election.

The proportion continued to decline after Jan 7, when YouTube announced that any channels that violated its election misinformation policy would receive a “warning” and that channels that received three warnings in 90 days would be permanently removed will. By the day of the inauguration, the share was around 5 percent.

The trend has been replicated on Facebook. A post-election spike in video sharing featuring fraud theories peaked just before December 8, with about 18 percent of all videos on Facebook. After YouTube put its stricter guidelines in place, the percentage fell sharply for much of the month before rising slightly before the January 6 uprising in the Capitol. The proportion fell again to 4 percent by the day of the inauguration after the new guidelines came into force on January 7th.

To arrive at their results, the researchers collected a random sample of 10 percent of all tweets every day. Then they quarantined tweets that linked on YouTube videos. They did the same for YouTube links on Facebook, using Facebook’s own social media analytics tool, CrowdTangle.

From this large data set, the researchers filtered for YouTube videos about the election broadly, as well as about election fraud using a set of keywords like “Stop the Steal” and “Sharpiegate.” This allowed the researchers to get a sense of the volume of YouTube videos about election fraud over time, and how that volume shifted in late 2020 and early 2021.

Misinformation on major social networks has proliferated in recent years. YouTube in particular has lagged behind other platforms in cracking down on different types of misinformation, often announcing stricter policies several weeks or months after Facebook and Twitter. In recent weeks, however, YouTube has toughened its policies, such as banning all antivaccine misinformation and suspending the accounts of prominent antivaccine activists, including Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Megan Brown, a research scientist at the N.Y.U. Center for Social Media and Politics, said it was possible that after YouTube banned the content, people could no longer share the videos that promoted election fraud. It is also possible that interest in the election fraud theories dropped considerably after states certified their election results.

But the bottom line, Ms. Brown said, is that “we know these platforms are deeply interconnected.” YouTube, she pointed out, has been identified as one of the most-shared domains across other platforms, including in both of Facebook’s recently released content reports and N.Y.U.’s own research.

“It’s a huge part of the information ecosystem,” Ms. Brown said, “so when YouTube’s platform becomes healthier, others do as well.”

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