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No More YouTube on Science & Enterprise

Video camera

(Josep Monter Martinez, Pixabay)

13 June 2019. The New York Times on Saturday ran a story about people who watch YouTube videos and are recruited into white-power extremist movements. The story gives many case studies, but also reveals a disturbing feature about YouTube: Much of its business depends on this kind of traffic.

The story, by technology reporter Kevin Roose, tells how YouTube’s algorithm recommends other unrelated videos to the viewer …

The common thread in many of these stories is YouTube and its recommendation algorithm, the software that determines which videos appear on users’ home pages and inside the “Up Next” sidebar next to a video that is playing. The algorithm is responsible for more than 70 percent of all time spent on the site.

YouTube is certainly aware of this problem and as recently as last week started to remove white-power extremist videos from its platform. This is not a new problem. Two years ago, YouTube had to make special efforts to redirect viewers away from Islamic State videos. While that’s all well and good, YouTube still thrives on the Up Next sidebar to lure viewers to watch more videos, often on subjects unrelated to the last video seen.

Another issue is the emerging problem of so-called deep-fakes, videos with faces of other people pasted on individuals portrayed, and using phony audio. The PBS NewsHour yesterday had a disturbing segment on the ease with which these videos can be prepared.

We sometimes use YouTube and other videos at Science & Enterprise to supplement our news stories, or for holiday announcements. They can be helpful to see the technology described in our stories actually demonstrated, or to hear from researchers directly about their discoveries. But because the innocent videos we embed in stories can be used as on-ramps for content we find abhorrent, we will not embed or link to any more YouTube videos on our site.

We will continue to post videos from Vimeo and other sources, but not YouTube. Once we’re convinced YouTube changed its practices, we’ll reconsider this decision. However, if there is no satisfactory solution to deep-fakes, we will stop using videos from any sources.

Thank you for your continued readership of Science & Enterprise. We promise high-quality journalism on the intersection of science and business, and want to keep that promise to our readers.

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