YouTube videos utilizing a blend of artificial intelligence-generated and manipulated media have inundated the platform with scandalous disinformation about countless Black celebrities, such as rapper and record executive Sean “Diddy” Combs, TV host Steve Harvey, actor Denzel Washington, and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Many of the video titles and voiceovers have propagated false narratives linked to recent rape and sex trafficking lawsuits filed against Combs. This includes a prominent case settled between him and entertainer Casandra “Cassie” Ventura. Other videos have insinuated that figures such as Jakes are connected to allegations against Combs, despite a lack of evidence, and have used manipulated media to depict the celebrities engaging in lewd acts and exaggerated displays of emotion in video thumbnails.
NBC News evaluated a dozen YouTube channels posting content that appears to be AI-generated fake news about Black celebrities. A majority of the videos featured clickbait titles, suggesting narratives or allegations that were not actually present in the videos themselves. Despite this, some videos garnered millions of views, with the median number of combined views for each channel being 21 million.
In response to the situation, a spokesperson for YouTube informed NBC News that the platform had reviewed and taken several actions against flagged channels. This included terminating three channels for violating their Terms of Service, removing additional channels from their monetization program, and deleting a number of videos and thumbnails.
According to a statement from YouTube, they have Community Guidelines in place to dictate what is permitted on their platform. This includes content that involves targeted harassment or unwanted sexualization.
AI-generated and other fake news content concerning Black celebrities has emerged as an issue according to Angelica Nwandu, the founder of The Shade Room which is a well-known Black culture news source. Nwandu explained, “We’ve seen these pages that pop up, and they will have an AI-generated picture of Rihanna crying over A$AP [Rocky] going to jail, and it’s completely fake. Our audience will reach out and ask why we aren’t covering these stories, because they believe these pages.”
The videos about Black celebrities often tie back to real, shocking events in the news. By mixing real news into the false information, the videos are able to gain traction quickly by seemingly providing new information on trending topics.
The increase in fake content on YouTube overlaps with the provider’s parent company Google’s ventures into generative AI technology. This comes at a time when there are growing concerns about disinformation campaigns targeting 2024 elections worldwide. YouTube has announced plans to implement a new policy requiring labels for synthetic and manipulated media in videos, although this system isn’t yet in place.
It is challenging to distinguish between AI-generated media and media that is manipulated without the use of AI, also known as “cheapfakes”. Among a dozen channels reviewed by NBC News, only one responded to a request for comment. A representative of the channel, which focuses on celebrity news, confirmed the use of “AI text-to-speech technology” for some videos but denied using AI tools for scripts.
A lawyer representing Jakes acknowledged that he is the latest prominent person to be targeted by fake and misleading information on YouTube. Jakes addressed the viral fake content in a sermon last month, saying, “All of you who expect me to address a lie, you can log off.”
A search for “TD Jakes” on YouTube brought up false content that appeared to utilize generative AI tools for voiceovers in the top five search results. Youtube suspended the channel responsible for the content in the search results from its monetization program. This means the channel can no longer profit from its videos.
However, channels relying on content that seems to be at least partly AI-generated continued to create false narratives about Jakes and others. Some videos even have ads, indicating that their creators are earning revenue from them. Since the fake news videos generate high views and user engagement, they are also ranked higher algorithmically in search results and recommended content – thanks to YouTube and Google’s AI-driven algorithms.
One specific YouTube video titled, “BREAKING NEWS: Diddy Is Found GUILTY & ARRESTED In Tupac’s Case!” that was posted on January 14, has amassed over 100,000 views. The clip showed a dramatic thumbnail of Combs next to an image of a police officer escorting him by the arm. However, Combs wasn’t arrested on Jan. 14. He was actually arrested in 2015 but not for the murder of Tupac Shakur.