"Istanbul, Turkey - December 4, 2011: Youtube Homepage Close-up on LCD Screen, Chrome Web Browser. YouTube is a largest and most visited video-sharing website, has founded in February 14, 2005."
There has been a lot of news lately that indicates the companies we rely on for information may either manipulate or attempt to manage what we see. I believe there is more to come and our current understanding of the effects of the algorithms used by these companies are not well understood. However, based on what we have heard to date, there is reasonable cause for concern.
In the midst of all of these discussions, revelations and proposed solutions, you would think the companies that are being looked at would be particularly cautious. Especially about positioning themselves as curating content or having an obvious political bias. You would be wrong.
Comedian Michael Loftus posted one of his two weekly videos last Friday. It was poking fun at Barack Obama and Al Gore for purchasing oceanfront property given their public concerns about climate change. In full disclosure, I know Michael and do a weekly podcast with him. However, what happened when he posted his video is worth noting.
Below his video, is a definition of global warming and a link to Wikipedia. He did not place it there and can not remove it.
First of all, this is Michael’s channel. It is his content that he owns the copyright to. And YouTube seems to think they have the right to flag it in this manner. Second, I don’t know a single University that considers Wikipedia a reliable source. So why is YouTube linking to publicly edited content?
Michael did a segment on climate change three years ago when he did the Flipside Show in syndication. Curious, I pulled it up. And there it was.
Even more curious, I decided to search for other commentators I know had talked about the subject. Two interesting things happened. First, I searched for Steven Crowder and climate change. The first video from Crowder’s channel was the 18th one in the videos that displayed. So I tried again using Louder with Crowder and climate change. Crowder’s content appeared 10th in the list.
Next, in both searches, all but one of the videos that were prioritized had lower views and many were older. Kind of makes you wonder what the algorithm is doing, doesn’t it? Additionally, look at what appears at the top of the search results:
And on Crowder’s content when climate change is in the title.
Now, if you search The Young Turks and climate change, only content from their official channel comes up for three pages worth of scrolling. And guess what does not appear on their content. You guessed it. The Wikipedia link.
It does appear on some of their videos. Most obviously when they are discussing President Trump and climate change according to the description.
So I decided to look at someone I consider to be a little more in the middle. Dave Rubin has done interviews on climate change. When you search his name and climate change, his channel content appears at the top of the feed. Unlike Crowder’s. His content also has the Wikipedia link placed on some content and not others. In those videos where Rubin appears to be an advocate for climate change, even in a debate with Crowder, the Wikipedia link is missing.
However, in a Direct Message where he is critical of the climate change debate in the video description, it does appear.
There is some combination of terms that are causing the box containing the Wikipedia link to appear below some videos and not others. Yet it does appear in all of the searches I did on the site that included the words climate change. When the title and or description of a video appears critical of climate change ideology, the box with the definition and Wikipedia link appear. I found it on content by Glenn Beck, Prager U, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson.
It also appears that Crowder’s channel content is being de-ranked in search when you search for his content the same way you search for Dave Rubin or The Young Turks. The videos that precede his content are often critical of him. Given recent events, this is not surprising, but it certainly gives credence to complaints from content creators on the right of the political spectrum.
More disturbing is the obvious way YouTube is trying to frame the topic. What’s next? If a conservative commentator creates pro-life content a box with “Reproductive Healthcare” will pop up and a link to Planned Parenthood’s Wikipedia page? What other debates could YouTube try to define the parameters of in this manner?
This is a platform taking an editorial position. Then placing a flag on content that they believe it is likely they disagree with. Is this an attempt to close the Overton window by flagging on the content they deem “wrong think”? Is it aimed at discouraging creators from creating content that will likely pull a flag they don’t agree with?
Whatever the goal, they are giving additional ammunition to those that accuse them of bias. Not a good look.