YouTube To Adjust UK Algorithm to Cut False and Extremist Content

November 1st, 2019 by

Popular video streaming site YouTube is experimenting with an algorithm change to reduce the spread of what it calls ‘borderline content’ in the UK, after a similar trial in the US-led to a substantial drop in views of extremist videos. According to Youtube’s chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, the move is intended to give quality content “more of a chance to shine”.

YouTube has come under scrutiny for years for allowing lewd and violent videos to feature on its site, with some even showing on the YouTube Kids channel, all due to the algorithm. It has been found to be promoting wildly misleading conspiracy theories, Nazi ideologies, and supremacism. This is due to a combination of borderline content is permitted, but also due to the recommendations conveyer belt that is dictated algorithmically, which can unwittingly incentivise a thriving subculture of extremism.

YouTube To Adjust UK Algorithm to Cut False and Extremist Content

The algorithm has been criticised for spreading misinformation and eliciting cultural frenzies, such as allowing theories to surface about the earth being flat, or the denial that the holocaust ever happened, and even affecting the 2016 presidential election results. YouTube is used by over 1.5 billion people worldwide, meaning that within seconds, false or harmful content can assimilate into pretty much every single corner of society. Fiction is outperforming reality, as sensationalist videos receive copious amounts of views, the voice of truth has become muffled as information becomes increasingly distorted.

These infringing videos can be culturally, politically and psychologically damning as the algorithm keeps users hooked on their screens by recommending more and more similar videos, meaning consumers can fall down a dark rabbit hole of false claims and violent content. Ex-google engineer Guillame Chaslot states that the algorithm does not appear to be optimising what is truthful, balanced or healthy for democracy to thrive. It is a fine line between free speech and fuelling disinformation; many oppressed voices need to be heard, and global interconnectivity via online platforms is vital for so many silenced segments of society. Social media can be liberating, unifying and educational- it can connect people thousands of miles apart and is a crucial facet of our lives. However, multinationals must take responsibility and commit to mitigating the harmful threat that these online platforms pose to societies across the world.

Platforms such as YouTube have traditionally taken a light-touch approach to hosted material, cowering behind the flimsy defence of free speech to justify the radical views of some users. YouTube took action earlier this year by banning videos that could misinform viewers in the US, which was extremely effective, so now the trial is being extended to the UK. Wojcicki explains in her quarterly letter that the company’s commitment to openness and honesty across its platform is hard to uphold when this can often lead to content being created that is outside the mainstream, controversial or even offensive. However, the company recognises the detriment that can be caused by the dissemination of material that brushes up against its policy line. YouTube has pledged to change the algorithm to filter out radical and disturbing content, to make it a safer and more informed space.

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