How YouTube recommends dangerous content and promotes propaganda: study by Texty.org.ua
The YouTube platform promotes content that poses a threat both to individual viewers and Ukrainian national security, all thanks to its recommendation system.
This information is taken from a study conducted by our colleagues at Texty.org.ua, “Spiral of Addiction,” engaging 205 users.
To track YouTube’s recommendation engine, they utilized a browser application developed by the editorial team. This app documented the video content these users watched between June and August 2023, shedding light on the recommendations generated by the platform.
Key takeaways from the study results:
1. YouTube is sensitive to the language preferences of its users
The language of recommended videos is directly linked to the language in which users consume content. It’s an almost straightforward relationship - the more views in russian, the more russian-language recommendations, and vice versa.
We previously offered guidelines on how to detox from YouTube.
2. Hacking the video categories of the videos on YouTube
For instance, a video with russian propagandist Yakov Kedmi was labeled as “Film and Animation,” while conspiracy theories are sometimes labeled as “Science and Technology.” This means that individuals interested in cinema or science might encounter propaganda and conspiracy content in their recommendations.
3. YouTube promotes banned individuals and organizations it allegedly opposes
Take, for instance, the case of Vladimir Solovyov, a top propagandist barred from YouTube. Despite the ban, Solovyov is there in the form of video clips and materials, cleverly avoiding explicit mentions of the blacklisted host.
Another interesting example is the tale of Scott Ritter, a pro-russian pseudo-expert from the United States. Two of Ritter’s channels were removed by YouTube in August 2023, yet the algorithm persisted in recommending his interviews.
Notably, some YouTube channels are dedicated solely to promoting Ritter’s views and statements and remain untouched on the platform.
4. Viewing history has a significant influence on YouTube’s recommendation system
Even as you explore new videos, the platform persistently pushes content from familiar channels that you’ve watched before. Such maneuvers indicate that the platform prefers to promote “verified recommendations”, which create a bubble or cyclical effect.
5. YouTube’s recommendations are not just a personal choice
The recommendation algorithm focuses not only on you, but also on people with similar interests.
For instance, if you watch pro-russian content, YouTube’s recommendation system adapts, tailoring suggestions based not just on your choices but also on the collective preferences of like-minded viewers