- A new report from the New York Times says YouTube’s recommendation algorithm sent researchers from videos with sexual content to videos of children.
- The report has reignited concerns over predators abusing the platform, an issue that first came to light in February.
- YouTube responded by pointing to measures it has already taken, including restricting live features for children, disabling comments on videos featuring children, and limiting recommendations.
- The researchers suggest that YouTube’s recommendations should not feature videos with children at all, but YouTube says it fears a change like that would hurt creators.
Researchers say YouTube’s recommendation algorithm sent them from videos with sexual content to videos featuring minors, increasing the concern about pedophiles and predators abusing the platform, The New York Times reported Monday.
In the article, the Times interviewed a Brazillian mother who’s 10-year-old daughter uploaded a video to YouTube. The video, which featured the 10-year-old and a friend swimming in a backyard pool, racked up 400,000 views.
“I saw the video again and I got scared by the number of views,” the mother said.
The Times noted that the video was promoted by YouTube months after February, when the company was alerted about issues with pedophiles and predators on the platform.
At the time, YouTuber MattsWhatItIs published a video highlighting predators that would leave timecodes for compromising moments in the comments under videos of children. This was done in order to lead other pedophiles to these specific moments.
YouTube responded and said they would be disabling comments on videos that feature minors.
According to this latest report, the majority of videos on YouTube are viewed through the company’s recommendation algorithm. The algorithm creates a playlist of suggested videos YouTube believes the user should watch next. The researchers found that once they began viewing content with sexual themes, YouTube would start to recommend videos featuring children.
“Users do not need to look for videos of children to end up watching them,” the Times states. “The platform can lead them there through a progression of recommendations.”
Often the videos featuring children were uploaded as innocent fun, such as parents sharing home movies or a film made by their child. The concern comes when those innocent videos are recommended to users looking for sexual content.
The Times reports that researchers from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center tested the recommendation algorithm for themselves while in Brazil. The researchers would start with sexually themed videos and follow the first recommended video shown, eventually landing on content that disturbed them.
The article explains that “videos of women discussing sex, for example, sometimes led to videos of women in underwear or breast-feeding, sometimes mentioning their age: 19, 18, even 16.”
As the researchers continued, YouTube then began suggesting that they watch videos of women seeking “sugar daddies” and adults in children’s clothing.
“From there,” the Times wrote, “YouTube would suddenly begin recommending videos of young and partially clothed children, then a near-endless stream of them drawn primarily from Latin America and Eastern Europe.”
When the Times told YouTube about their findings, the company removed some, but not all, of the videos they were shown. The article states that the recommendation system changed immediately and no longer linked some of the videos together. According to YouTube, it was likely the result of routine adjustments and not a deliberate policy change.
YouTube also published a blog post where they laid out all of the actions they have already put in place to combat pedophiles on the platform. This includes restricting live features for children, disabling comments on videos featuring children, and further limiting recommendations.
While these steps may help to combat the problem, according to researchers, the one thing that would truly make children safe is turning off the recommendation system for videos of children.
When the Times pressed the company, YouTube was wary to make the change because of how this could hurt creators, with recommendations driving 70 percent of views. However, they did say they would limit recommendations on videos that put children at risk.
See what others are saying (New York Times) (MIT Technology Review) (Gizmodo)
YouTube Will Soon Only Show Abbreviated Subscriber Counts. Will This Change YouTube Cancel Culture?
- YouTube will begin only showing abbreviated subscriber counts on its platform starting in August.
- The change is expected to impact third-party sites like Social Blade, that track real-time subscribers losses and gains.
- Though it’s unclear why YouTube has decided to make the change, many note that it comes during a time when subscriber changes have been heavily focused on in several recent online feuds.
Abbreviated Sub Counts Announced
Youtube announced a major change to the way it displays channel subscriber counts on Tuesday, which could stop third-party analytic sites like Social Blade from displaying real-time subscriber losses and gains.
In a blog post on YouTube’s support page, the company said it will soon display only abbreviated public subscriber counts across the platform, instead of full counts.
“To create more consistency everywhere that we publicly display subscriber counts, starting in August 2019, we’ll begin showing the abbreviated subscriber number across all public YouTube surfaces,” the post reads.
“For channels with fewer than 1,000 subscribers, the exact (non-abbreviated) subscriber count will still be shown. Once your channel passes the 1000 subscriber milestone, we will begin to abbreviate your public subscriber numbers on a sliding scale.”
The company laid out a few examples of what the changes will look like. For example, if a channel has 7,237,932 subscribers, then YouTube will display the count as simply 7.2M.
Impact on Social Blade
This might not seem like a huge deal, but it could potentially change the current culture on YouTube.
Whenever social media influencers are involved in any online controversies, viewers first jump to third-party sites like Social Blade to see if the drama is negatively or positively impacting the creators involved.
In the announcement, YouTube specifically states: “Third parties that use YouTube’s API Services will also access the same public facing counts you see on YouTube. Creators will still be able to see their exact number of subscribers in YouTube Studio.”
When asked by users if this update will affect its numbers, Social Blade didn’t appear to be too concerned, tweeting that it should still be able to present accurate data on the site.
But minutes later, Social Blade followed up with another post, writing, “Upon closer look, it might affect our data display, but only time will tell.”
Social Blade later tweeted that it had reached out to YouTube for clarification and is waiting to hear back.
In a statement to the Verge, the CEO of Social Blade Jason Urgo confirmed that he was still waiting on a response, but added, “it appears like it will hit any third party which would include us as well.”
Subscriber Counts & YouTube Drama
Though YouTube has not directly given a reason for the change, many have noted that it comes at a time when YouTube sub counts have been closely monitored by viewers. Unsubscribing from a YouTuber after any scandal is one of the easiest ways viewers can pull back their support and it’s become a bigger and bigger focus in recent months.
The focus on real-time subscriber changes were seen all throughout PewDiePie’s battle with T-Series, during all of the drama that unfolded in the beauty community between James Charles, Tati Westbrook, and Jeffree Star, and even more recently after popular gamer Turner “Tfue” Tenny sued the gaming collective FaZe Clan.
During all of these massively followed feuds, sub counts have even been live streamed on channels dedicated to tracking the changes, often using data from Social Blade.
The public’s growing interest in taunting creators over subscriber losses has helped sites like Social Blade rise in popularity. Earlier this week, the site thanked its visitors for the increase in traffic that has poured in during the last few weeks alone.
What's even more impressive then that though, I was looking through the list of sites in the top 500 in the US and they list "Daily Time on Site" (basically "watch time" for websites, and guess what… We are NUMBER ONE! WOW!!!! (and #2 in the global list!!)— Social Blade (@SocialBlade) May 21, 2019
It’s unclear if any of the community’s drama or the rise in online cancel culture playing any role in YouTube’s decision. Regardless, it could change the way users follow subscriber changes in future online controversies.
See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Tubefilter) (9to5Google)
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U.S. Labeled ‘Problematic’ Place for Journalists
- Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180 countries on its annual World Press Freedom Index.
- The ranking is three places lower than it was last year, changing the U.S. label from “satisfactory” to “problematic.”
- The Index states that increased threats against journalists in the U.S. are becoming more normalized.
- The report specifically cites the U.S. ranking as “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
World Press Freedom Index
The United States has been ranked as a “problematic” place for journalists, as the threats they face continue to become more standard, according to a new report about press freedom.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report compiled by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders (RWB), downgraded the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180. The ranking is three spots lower than its place last year.
The downgrade officially changes the press freedom status of the U.S. from “satisfactory” to “problematic,” marking the first time the country has received that label.
#RSFIndex: For the first time, the #UnitedStates is coloured orange (“problematic”) on the World Press Freedom Map.— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 18, 2019
A man opened fire inside a newsroom, killing five people, but @realDonaldTrump continued to systematically denigrate the media.https://t.co/QYCSKKs2xB pic.twitter.com/uVObO1wwVH
“Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection,” the report said.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 10 journalists have faced physical attacks this year, and 46 journalists were physically attacked in 2017.
The World Press Freedom Index report also cited the five journalists who were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland last June. The attack was carried out by a man who had threatened the publication for years before the attack.
The report also cited the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last October.
The section of the report on North America specifically stated that the drop in rankings was “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”
“Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments,” the report said.“President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level.”
Since being elected, Trump has referred to journalists as the “enemy of the American people,” and continuously accused nearly every mainstream media outlet of reporting “fake news.” He has also commended violence against journalists, like giving praise to a GOP congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.
According to the report, Trump has also called for the revocation of broadcasting licenses and attempted to block certain media outlets from access to the White House. In November, the Trump administration was forced to restore the press credentials of a CNN reporter that had been stripped of his pass after a heated exchange with Trump.
Back in August, United Nations human rights leaders stated that Trump’s attacks have undermined press freedom, and increase the risk of violence against journalists.
“The president’s relentless attacks against the press has created an environment where verbal, physical and online threats and assault against journalists are becoming normalized,” RSF Interim Executive Director Sabine Dolan told NPR.
The Index also found that the Americas has experienced “the greatest deterioration” in its press freedom regional score.
This is not just because of the United States. The report also cited instances in Brazil, where journalists have been targeted by supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro “both physically and online.” Experts often noted that Bolsonaro uses the same “fake news” refrain to discrediting negative media about him.
The report also stated that Mexico is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, noting that “at least ten journalists were murdered in 2018.”
RSF identified North Korea and Turkmenistan as the most dangerous countries for the media, stating that their governments control the flow of information and censor journalists who defy them by using tactics including arrest, torture or killing.
In contrast, Norway ranked as the safest country, a title it has held for the past three years. Finland received second place.
Only 24 percent of the 180 countries in the report were given the rank of being “safe” or “satisfactory” for the press. This is lower than the 2018 Index, which gave 26 percent of countries “safe” or “satisfactory” rankings.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”