Fake YouTube channels of renowned news media

dismislab has found 58 YouTube channels that are impersonating renowned global news media. The target audience of these channels are Bangladeshis. Well-known media are being deprived of audience and income

Reuters file photo

Huw Edwards is a familiar face to people who regularly watch BBC. He is a journalist and news presenter. He was the main presenter of ‘BBC News at 10’. However, the BBC authorities sacked him in July 2023 on the allegation of sexual misconduct. He was reportedly undergoing treatment at a hospital for depression related issues. 

However, he was seen reading out news in Bangla on a YouTube channel named ‘BBC World News Bangla’ a week ago. Readers are advised to not get confused at this point. Huw Edwards hasn’t joined any Bangla YouTube channel. Rather, it was a fake video created by the channel named ‘BBC World News Bangla’ using his face and the logo of BBC.

‘dismislab’ is a fact-checking initiative of Digitally Right Limited, who researches the impact of technology on information. It has found 58 fake YouTube channels of well-known local and international news channels. The target audiences of these channels are Bangladeshis. Some of these channels named themselves after the names of renowned news channels, some have copied the logo of popular news channels and some are using images of renowned news presenters in their videos.

The dismislab report says the main target of these fake YouTube channels is to increase views to earn money through it. However, they spread false and confusing information. They always choose sensitive issues as the contents of the video.

For instance, a YouTube channel named BBC-News BD uploaded a video on 3 January using a thumbnail that says ‘Army intervenes, 7-January poll cancelled’. However, it was fake news.

The target audience of these channels are Bangladeshis. Well-known media are being deprived of audience and income

dismislab says viewers get confused as these channels are using voices and images of renowned persons in their contents. Researchers searched a few news-related words on YouTube and found that contents of these fake channels come first and more than half of these search results are contents uploaded by these channels.

dismislab spoke to Channel 24 executive director Talat Mahmud. He said a fake news was spread using the logo of Channel 24 in a very sensitive time, which was very concerning.

He further said, “The media literacy rate is not very high in Bangladesh. We often don’t verify what we see. At one point, people start believing the fake news or the disinformation.”

Who are the victims of fake channels?

Social media’s popularity in Bangladesh has increased exponentially over the last few years. Many use social media for news.

According to the Sample Vital Statistics-2023 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 50 per cent of people aged more than 15 years use the internet.

According to the stats of Data Reportal, a website that provides information on the use of social media, the number of YouTube users in the country was around 33.6 million in the beginning this year.

YouTube channels are opened by a person or an organisation to upload and publish videos. The channel owners get a portion of the earnings from the advertisement on their video. Many Bangladeshi YouTube channel owners earn millions from their videos. At the same time many are uploading fake videos using names and logos of renowned media outlets to spread false information and fake news.

Of the 58 fake news channels identified by the dismislab, 37 copied the BBC. The other renowned news channels used by these fake channels include US-based CNN and ABC News, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, Somoy Television, Ekattor Television and Jamuna Television.

‘Al-Jazeera Bangla’ is one such fake news channel. According to the dismislab, Al-Jazeera doesn’t have any such YouTube channel. It’s a fake YouTube channel which used Al-Jazeera’s logo.

The fake YouTube channels should be closed.  The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) may block these channels or ask the YouTube authorities to do so
Saimum Reza Talukder, senior lecturer, BRAC University

Researchers have analysed 168 video contents of 12 of the YouTube channels that copied the BBC.  It shows that the headline of the news doesn’t match the content of the video.

What’s in the law?

The dismislab e-mailed the BBC regarding this. The BBC press office said in reply that their legal department took actions against fake YouTube channels and social media accounts on their name. However, the tendency still exists.

US based Alphabet Incorporation is the mother company of YouTube. The YouTube policy doesn’t allow copying and duplicating. The channels doing this were supposed to be banned. The dismislab says it has clear evidence of violating YouTube policy against these 58 channels. However, these channels still exist and videos uploaded from these even get advertisements. It means YouTube itself earns from these fake channels. Many of these channels have been provided with the verified badge by YouTube. In some cases, these channels are using the blue tick in such a way that it seems these channels are ‘verified’.

‘The fake channels should be closed’

As per the trademark Acts of the county, the highest punishment for copying a trademark is not more than two years of imprisonment. At the same time, publishing false information in the digital world has been termed a crime in the Cyber Security Act. A person can be imprisoned for two years and can be subjected to fine for this crime.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, BRAC University senior lecturer Saimum Reza Talukder said, “The fake YouTube channels should be closed.  The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) may block these channels or ask the YouTube authorities to do so."

He further said, “There are some provisions of punitive actions for spreading false information and disinformation. However, those are not enough. The reason behind this is that cybercrimes are not defined properly in the relevant laws. Besides, there are chances of misusing these laws due to its inconsistency with the international standards.”

* This report appeared on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu