Heavy controversy has surrounded the internet’s largest video-sharing site, YouTube, in recent years due to changes to their platform, particularly their algorithm. Creators are unhappy with the changes made by and large, which have made it more difficult for smaller channels to be discovered, and existing channels to make their subscribers aware of new content being put out. Users in turn are also unhappy because many cannot find the content they wish to interact with, and dislike seeing the creators they look up to struggle to maintain their channels.
In addition to the existing mayhem, a new cause for concern has been brought to light: Is the YouTube algorithm indirectly working to shape the perspectives of content consumers? When enabled, “up next” YouTube will play a video directly after the one a user has finished watching. It was discovered that the algorithm had been suggesting heavily biased, controversial content, such as conspiracy theories related to the Las Vegas shooting. Age-inappropriate have also been directed towards children as a result of the algorithm.
The problem lies in the construction of the algorithm, which is largely a secret, but we do know one thing: it is largely dependent on watch-time, rather than views. This can be seen as problematic because it promotes the endless consumption of videos–even worse considering the accusations of the content being biased. This is also particularly concerning for younger users.
One example of suggested content persuading users could be the 2016 presidential elections. The YouTube algorithm was believed to have directed users to more pro-Trump leaning videos, whether the source was in support of his campaign or Hillary. Due to Trump’s small victory margin, this initiated a question as to just how much influence something like a biased string of videos could have on the results of an election.
So the question becomes, do platforms such as YouTube have an ethical responsibility to manage their algorithms in a way that present content in an unbiased manner? Are they any more liable to present factual information in sequence than a television network would be?