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How Do We Save People From YouTube?


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In January, YouTube announced that they would be changing their recommendation engine to reduce the visibility of "borderline content" that could "misinform users in harmful ways." The move was widely praised. It's necessity perhaps best described in this viral twitter thread:

 

Basically, conspiracy videos do a really good job of keeping people on YouTube, so it's natural that the recommendation algorithm would push those kinds videos. YouTube's recognition that maybe that's an impulse they should push against is a good sign. Still, it the changes so far don't seem to have much of an impact, and as more big name creators get into the conspiracy game, it seems less and less likely that YouTube would actively punish them.

 

In this quick look at the problem in the Times, one suggestion is regulation. Changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act such that platforms remain shielded from being liable from the content they host, but making them liable for recommendations. It's not clear to me how that would help, or what kind of liability YouTube could take on for promoting more anti-vax or flat earth nonsense. Even if it would help, as the Times notes, that wouldn't change how users would see videos in channels they're subscribed to. When channels with millions of subscriptions are creating these kinds of videos, what kind of process could YouTube possibly employ to limit them?

 

Again, there's also the problem that YouTube is incentivized to keep these videos up and accessible. This kind of content gets views and therefore sells ads. It's great that maybe YouTube is looking to change, but it's hard to imagine that such a project would have much urgency or resources when the ultimate effect would necessarily harm the bottom line. So you end up with an ambiguous problem that is difficult to solve, doesn't fall under existing regulatory schemes, and where no one is incentivized to fix it.

 

 

I'd love to see YouTube be very aggressive in policing some of this stuff, but it's hard to imagine a system that doesn't require lots of human involvement in an effort to lower total view time. They could disable all recommendations on anti-vax or flat earth videos, but then you need some kind of system to deal with videos falsely flagged. I just hope that this is conversation that keeps going, such that YouTube and other platforms feel pressure to do something.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Related problems crop up even on YouTube’s ‘officially censored/kid safe’ platforms. It’s this kind of thing that has ensured that YouTube Kids stays off my six year old’s Kindle, and that he only gets to watch YouTube with an adult around.  I figure it buys me some time to teach him good habits of media consumption so that when he’s older and navigating the waters without  me looking over his shoulder the darkest aspects of the internet and social media don’t eat him alive.

 

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26 minutes ago, Signifyin(g)Monkey said:

Related problems crop up even on YouTube’s ‘officially censored/kid safe’ platforms. It’s this kind of thing that has ensured that YouTube Kids stays off my six year old’s Kindle, and that he only gets to watch YouTube with an adult around.  I figure it buys me some time to teach him good habits of media consumption so that when he’s older and navigating the waters without  me looking over his shoulder the darkest aspects of the internet and social media don’t eat him alive.

 

 

We don’t let any of our three kids (12, 9, 7) use the internet solo. They aren’t even allowed to look at their friends devices. It is a wasteland of garbage.

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