The YouTube platform is currently grappling with a concerning surge of disinformation, particularly in the form of videos that deploy a mix of artificial intelligence-generated and manipulated media. These videos, which have flooded the platform, are spreading fictitious narratives about several Black celebrities, including notable figures like rapper and record executive Sean “Diddy” Combs, TV host Steve Harvey, actor Denzel Washington, and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
The content of these videos often revolves around salacious and misleading details, often stemming from recent lawsuits related to rape and sex trafficking allegations against Sean Combs. The misleading narratives go as far as implicating other figures, like Bishop T.D. Jakes, in these allegations without any supporting evidence. Manipulated media, including AI-generated content, is frequently used to depict these celebrities engaging in lewd acts and exaggerated displays of emotion in video thumbnails.
NBC News conducted a review of around a dozen YouTube channels responsible for posting what appears to be AI-generated fake news content targeting Black celebrities. Many of these videos use clickbait techniques, where the video titles and thumbnails suggest narratives or allegations that are not actually present in the videos. Despite YouTube's efforts to curb such content, some of these videos have garnered millions of views, with the median number of combined views for each channel reaching 21 million.
In response to inquiries, a spokesperson for YouTube stated that the platform had reviewed and taken action against several flagged channels, including terminating three channels for violating its Terms of Service. Additionally, other channels were removed from the monetization program, and specific videos and thumbnails were deleted. YouTube emphasized adherence to its Community Guidelines, which set the standards for content on the platform, explicitly addressing issues related to targeted harassment or unwanted sexualization.
The prevalence of manipulated and AI-generated fake content on YouTube has become particularly troublesome, especially for prominent Black culture news sources like The Shade Room. The founder and CEO, Angelica Nwandu, highlighted instances where AI-generated pictures and fake news about celebrities have misled the audience. These misleading videos often tie back to real, shocking, and scandalous events, providing a deceptive blend of real and false information.
The influx of such fake content on YouTube aligns with Google's exploration of generative AI technology, raising concerns about the broader issue of disinformation, especially in the context of the upcoming 2024 elections. YouTube had announced plans to enforce a new policy requiring labels for synthetic and manipulated media in videos, but the implementation is still pending.
Distinguishing between AI-generated media and manipulated media without AI (commonly referred to as “cheapfakes”) poses a challenge. Out of the dozen channels reviewed by NBC News, only one responded to a request for comment, acknowledging the use of "AI text-to-speech technology" for some videos but denying the use of AI tools for scripts and thumbnails.
One specific target of the fake news videos, Bishop T.D. Jakes, acknowledged the viral fake content in a recent sermon, addressing those who expect him to respond to lies. Despite YouTube's efforts to suspend channels and take down content, the AI-generated fake narratives persist, continuing to exploit real news events to gain traction and views. The challenges in combating such disinformation underline the complex interplay between AI technologies, online platforms, and the urgent need for effective content moderation.