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Some young men discover far-right videos by accident, while others seek them out. Some travel all the way to neo-Nazism, while others stop at milder forms of bigotry.
The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site. The radicalization of young men is driven by a complex stew of emotional, economic and political elements, many having nothing to do with social media.
But critics and independent researchers say YouTube has inadvertently created a dangerous on-ramp to extremism by combining two things: a business model that rewards provocative videos with exposure and advertising dollars, and an algorithm that guides users down personalized paths meant to keep them glued to their screens.
In recent years, social media platforms have grappled with the growth of extremism on their services. Many platforms have barred a handful of far-right influencers and conspiracy theorists, including Alex Jones of Infowars, and tech companies have taken steps to limit the spread of political misinformation.
YouTube, whose rules prohibit hate speech and harassment, took a more laissez-faire approach to enforcement for years. This past week, the company announced that it was updating its policy to ban videos espousing neo-Nazism, white supremacy and other bigoted views.
The company also said it was changing its recommendation algorithm to reduce the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
According to the Pew Research Center, 94 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 use YouTube, a higher percentage than for any other online service. Like many Silicon Valley companies, YouTube is outwardly liberal in its corporate politics. It sponsors floats at L.
President Trump and other conservatives have claimed that YouTube and other social media networks are biased against right-wing views, and have used takedowns like those announced by YouTube on Wednesday as evidence for those claims.
In reality, YouTube has been a godsend for hyper-partisans on all sides. It has allowed them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and broadcast their views to mainstream audiences, and has helped once-obscure commentators build lucrative media businesses. It has also been a useful recruiting tool for far-right extremist groups.
A European research group, VOX-Pol, conducted a separate analysis of nearly 30, Twitter accounts affiliated with the alt-right.
It found that the accounts linked to YouTube more often than to any other site. I visited Mr. Cain in West Virginia after seeing his YouTube video denouncing the far right. We spent hours discussing his radicalization.
To back up his recollections, he downloaded and sent me his entire YouTube history, a log of more than 12, videos and more than 2, search queries dating to These interviews and data points form a picture of a disillusioned young man, an internet-savvy group of right-wing reactionaries and a powerful algorithm that learns to connect the two. It suggests that YouTube may have played a role in steering Mr.
Cain, and other young men like him, toward the far-right fringes. It also suggests that, in time, YouTube is capable of steering them in very different directions. The right-wing content Mr. Cain also watched many videos by members of the so-called intellectual dark weblike the popular comedian Joe Rogan and the political commentator Dave Rubin.
DuringMr. Cain began watching more videos from left-wing channels. Cain also watched many videos by members of the so-called intellectual dark weblike the popular comedian Joe Rogan and the political. From an early ageMr. Cain was fascinated by internet culture.
As a teenager, he browsed 4Chan, the lawless message board. He played online games with his friends, and devoured videos of intellectuals debating charged topics like the existence of God.
The internet was an escape. Cain grew up in postindustrial Appalachia and was raised by his conservative Christian grandparents. He was smart, but shy and socially awkward, and he carved out an identity during high school as a countercultural punk. He went to community college, but dropped out after three semesters. Broke and depressed, he resolved to get his act together.
He began looking for help in the same place he looked for everything: YouTube. One day in lateYouTube recommended a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux, a Canadian talk show host and self-styled philosopher.
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Like Mr. Cain, Mr. Molyneux had a difficult childhood, and he talked about overcoming hardships through self-improvement.
He seemed smart and passionate, and he wrestled with big questions like free will, along with practical advice on topics like dating and job interviews. Cain was a liberal who cared about social justice, worried about wealth inequality and believed in climate change. But he found Mr.
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Cain said. In andas Mr. Cain dived deeper into his YouTube recommendations, he discovered an entire universe of right-wing creators. A two-day sample of Mr.
Feminism was a recurring theme. In one video, an English professor argued that feminism limited basic liberties. By the end of the binge, Mr. Cain had watched explicitly racist videos, including some from channels that have since been banned. Over time, he watched dozens of clips by Steven Crowder, a conservative comedian, and Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent right-wing conspiracy theorist who was barred by Facebook this year.
They were entertainers, building their audience with satirical skits, debates and interviews with like-minded creators. Some of them were part of the alt-right, a loose cohort of pro-Trump activists who sandwiched white nationalism between layers of internet sarcasm. These creators were active on Facebook and Twitter, too. But YouTube was their headquarters, and the place where they could earn a living by hawking merchandise and getting a cut of the money spent on advertisements that accompanied their videos.
Few of them had overt ties to establishment conservative groups, and there was little talk about tax cuts or trade policy on their channels. To Mr. Cain, all of this felt like forbidden knowledge — as if, just by watching some YouTube videos, he had been let into an exclusive club.
If alienation was one ingredient in Mr. Molyneux were another, the third was a series of product decisions YouTube made starting back in For years, the algorithm had been programmed to maximize views, by showing users videos they were likely to click on.Offline vs. Online Dating - Was funktioniert besser? I Das Selbstexperiment
But creators had learned to game the system, inflating their views by posting videos with exaggerated titles or choosing salacious thumbnail images. That way, creators would be encouraged to make videos that users would finish, users would be more satisfied and YouTube would be able to show them more ads.
The bet paid off.
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Within weeks of the algorithm change, the company reported that overall watch time was growing, even as the number of views shrank. A month after its algorithm tweak, YouTube changed its rules to allow all video creators to run ads alongside their videos and earn a portion of the revenue they generated. Previously, only popular channels that had been vetted by YouTube were able to run ads. It treated a white nationalist monologue no differently from an Ariana Grande cover or a cake icing tutorial.
But the far right was well positioned to capitalize on the changes. Many right-wing creators already made long video essays, or posted video versions of their podcasts. Their inflammatory messages were more engaging than milder fare. And now that they could earn money from their videos, they had a financial incentive to churn out as much material as possible.
A few progressive YouTube channels flourished from to Watson, the conspiracy theorist, tweeted in Several current and former YouTube employees, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity because they had signed confidentiality agreements, said company leaders were obsessed with increasing engagement during those years.
One problem, according to several of the current and former YouTube employees, is that the A. Eventually, users got bored. And they began testing a new algorithm that incorporated a different type of A. The new A. Reinforce was a huge success. In a talk at an A. Chen said. After being shown a recording of Ms. This past week, the company announced that it would expand that approach, so that a person who had watched a series of conspiracy theory videos would be nudged toward videos from more authoritative news sources.
In interviews, YouTube officials denied that the recommendation algorithm steered users to more extreme content. The officials declined to share this data, or give any specific examples of users who were shown more moderate videos after watching more extreme videos. The officials stressed, however, that YouTube realized it had a responsibility to combat misinformation and extreme content.
By the night of Nov. With Tinder back in the news following a critical article in Vanity Fair and the company's subsequent angry response on Twitter, I decided to speak to Greaves and Abrahams to find out more about the video and their reaction to the criticism. Samuel Abrahams: Tom is newly single and just downloaded Happn and then we were just kinda talking about the difference between your life on here and how you present yourself.
It occurred to me that the best way for Tom to meet someone would be to start approaching them in real life and [that] I would love to have a camera there. Tom Greaves: It's something that you definitely think about doing. It's always terrifying, especially if you see someone and you fancy them — suddenly the stakes go through the roof and you fear rejection. You worry what you're going to say — you can't just go up to someone and say, "I like you.
Do you want to go for a drink? TG: That was the angle when we decided to do this, but previously it was just not something you do. It is confusing. Being that direct is very unlikely to work. I did think that maybe just being that open and honest might be like, not surprising, but seen as I didn't want to manipulate, or come across as a smooth operator.
SA: The idea that interacting with strangers might be socially unacceptable seems very sad to me. Of course, it is all about how you do it. TG: It is creepy, but I don't know if it's creepier to be direct or to kind of conceive of some plan to get them to go on a date with you.
TG: You are going up to someone, you haven't been invited to speak or to meet.
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Should we be able to speak to someone we don't know? I always tried to be polite and respectful. It's become more and more strange to speak to someone in London.
If there was more natural connection between people, then asking them out for a drink wouldn't seem as crazy. TG: You immediately get a quick sense if they are interested or not — I never persisted with it if I felt like it wasn't going anywhere.
I can see how it can be annoying — you're faced with a situation where you have to turn someone down. It's how it's done. If you are polite and respectful and also understand that there is no obligation It's annoying if it's not what they want, that's the worst case, but maybe they find it flattering. I'm not saying that that's all women want.
TG: I can understand it, but it's life, isn't it? People are always interfering in others' The Metro is shoved in people's faces every day, you could say that's invading your space.
Men are entitled to speak to someone — I think anyone is entitled to speak to anyone — but you're not entitled to a response. TG: Sometimes I'm answering questions people have asked about it: "What does this mean?
How would you recommend people to now approach people offline? Is the logical conclusion of this that any guy is gonna go up to women and be like, 'Hey!
I'm not an expert. SA: We talked about it.