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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during her first press briefing at the White House, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP) White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during her first press briefing at the White House, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during her first press briefing at the White House, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek January 25, 2021

If Your Time is short

• YouTube may have removed “spam” dislikes from a video posted by the White House after President Joe Biden took office.

• YouTube’s policies allow the company to remove likes or dislikes that have been marked invalid by its systems.

• The video in question had 32,000 dislikes as of Jan. 25, and 7,700 likes.

Hours after President Joe Biden was sworn into office Jan. 20, press secretary Jen Psaki gave the administration’s first White House media briefing. A video of the briefing was posted on the official White House YouTube channel.

As social media users scrutinized the video, some started circulating claims on Facebook suggesting that YouTube was suppressing the negative feedback to it.

One post showed a Gateway Pundit headline that reads "YouTube Caught Red-Handed Removing Dislikes from Biden White House Page — Anything to Fool the Proletariat." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.

The post is accompanied by images purporting to be screenshots of the briefing video. One image, which appeared to have been taken from a phone at 3:11 p.m., showed the video had been "disliked" 10,000 times, using YouTube’s comment icons. The second, which appeared to have been taken at 7:31 p.m., was nearly identical but showed the video had been disliked only 3,100 times.

The Gateway Pundit article said, "This is more evidence of how the Tech Giants do anything they can to assist their ideological allies while they censor and delete conservative content and voices."

The claim, bolstered by the screenshots, quickly picked up steam on other right-wing blogs. 

So, did YouTube remove thousands of dislikes from a video posted by the Biden administration? 

It’s possible. But the posts on Facebook are missing some important context about how YouTube handles likes and dislikes on its videos. And they don’t offer any evidence that YouTube did so improperly or for political reasons.

YouTube told PolitiFact that it has systems in place to ensure that engagements with videos — such as likes and dislikes — are authentic, so that the analytics information it provides is reliable. Those systems worked as designed to remove spam engagement on this video, according to YouTube. The de-spamming process starts when a video is uploaded and continues to run to ensure metrics remain accurate, YouTube said.

In 2019, The Verge reported that YouTube considered removing the dislike button from its videos entirely, in an effort to stop so-called dislike mobs — groups who organize to dislike a video because they are frustrated with the content creator or channel — from "weaponizing" it. 

YouTube’s verified account on Twitter has also addressed the issue of removing likes and dislikes. 

"YouTube regularly removes any spam likes or dislikes from your videos. It may take up to 48 hours for the numbers to be updated," one tweet reads. Another said: "We always validate the activities & legitimacy of accounts added on your likes/dislikes report. This is to make sure that our site metrics are free of spam."

It is not clear how YouTube determines whether engagement is authentic or spam. YouTube did not address the specific actions taken on the Psaki briefing video, which had 32,000 dislikes as of Jan. 25, and 7,700 likes.

So it is possible YouTube removed dislikes it deemed "spam" from videos posted by the White House account, including the Jan. 20 press briefing video. But there is no evidence YouTube deliberately removed authentic dislikes from the video to support the Biden administration or silence critics.

It’s important to note that registered and logged-in YouTube users who mark a video with a "like" or "dislike" can undo those ratings themselves by simply clicking again on the respective icon. So the numbers can go up or down even without YouTube’s direct involvement.

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