How YouTube Drives People to the Internet’s Darkest Corners

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YouTube is the new television, with more than 1.5 billion users, and videos the site recommends have the power to influence viewpoints around the world. Those recommendations often present divisive, misleading or false content despite changes the site has recently made to highlight more-neutral fare. People cumulatively watch more than a billion YouTube hours daily world-wide, a 10-fold increase from 2012, the site says. Behind that growth is an algorithm that creates personalized playlists. YouTube says these recommendations drive more than 70% of its viewing time, making the algorithm among the single biggest deciders of what people watch.

YouTube’s recommendations often lead users to channels that feature conspiracy theories, partisan viewpoints and misleading videos, even when those users haven’t shown interest in such content. When users show a political bias in what they choose to view, YouTube typically recommends videos that echo those biases, often with more-extreme viewpoints. Such recommendations play into concerns about how social-media sites can amplify extremist voices, sow misinformation and isolate users in “filter bubbles” where they hear largely like-minded perspectives.


How YouTube Drives People to the Internet’s Darkest Corners