Thursday, 08 February 2018 09:12

YouTube recommends extreme videos to users: report

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The algorithm used by YouTube to recommend videos related to one that a user is viewing appears to often lead to conspiracy theories, partisan viewpoints and misleading clips, even though the viewer has not shown any interest in that kind of content.

An investigation by The Wall Street Journal showed that when a viewer picked a video based on their political bias, the videos recommended tended to be more extreme content which conformed to the same viewpoint.  

YouTube, which is owned by Google, had issues last year, with major advertisers pulling their ads beginning in March when a report appeared stating that these ads were appearing on videos which had racist, sexist, extremist and anti-Semitic content.

In November last year, it was reported that clips of scantily dressed children were carrying ads from brands like Mondelez, Lidl and Mars.

Viewers around the world watch more than a billion hours of video on YouTube every day. More than 200 million different videos are recommended in 80 languages daily.

The WSJ report quoted Northeastern University computer-science professor Christo Wilson, who studies the impact of algorithms, as saying: "The editorial policy of these new platforms is to essentially not have one.

"That sounded great when it was all about free speech and ‘in the marketplace of ideas, only the best ones win.’ But we’re seeing again and again that that’s not what happens. What’s happening instead is the systems are being gamed and people are being gamed.”

YouTube's product management chief for recommendations Johanna Wright admitted the recommendations were a problem. Engineers who work for the site said the algorithm did not seek out extreme videos but looked for highly trafficked ones – which often turned out to be extreme.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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