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YouTube Alters Algorithm To Promote News, Penalize Vegas Shooting Conspiracy Theories (usatoday.com) 373

An anonymous reader quotes USA Today: YouTube has changed its powerful search algorithm to promote videos from more mainstream news outlets in search results after people looking for details on the Las Vegas shooting were served up conspiracy theories and misinformation. YouTube confirmed the changes Thursday... In the days after the mass shooting, videos abounded on YouTube, some questioning whether the shooting occurred and others claiming law enforcement officials had deceived the public about what really happened...

Public outcry over YouTube videos promoting conspiracy theories is just the latest online flap for the major U.S. Internet companies. Within hours of the attack, Facebook and Google were called out for promoting conspiracy theories... Helping drive YouTube's popularity is the "Up next" column which suggests additional videos to viewers. The Wall Street Journal found incidents this week in which YouTube suggested videos promoting conspiracy theories next to videos from mainstream news sources. YouTube acknowledged issues with the "Up next" algorithm and said it was looking to promote more authoritative results there, too.

At least one video was viewed over a million times, and Slashdot reader Lauren Weinstein writes that "I've received emails from Google users who report YouTube pushing links to some of those trending fake videos directly to their phones as notifications." He's suggesting that from now on, YouTube's top trending videos should be reviewed by actual humans.
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YouTube Alters Algorithm To Promote News, Penalize Vegas Shooting Conspiracy Theories

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  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @02:47AM (#55330073)

    The problem with suppressing conspiracy theories, and promoting "authoritative" sources, is that it makes real conspiracies even easier for the authorities to cover up.

    • problem? .. or a feature.
    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @03:40AM (#55330175) Journal

      Yeah but the problem with not is there are about an infinite number of conspiracies, compared to what actually happened.

      If you simply go by numbers, you'll wind up with nothing but conspiracies.

      Actually scratch that, it's a simpler, bigger problem. Ever since the mid 90s the job of search engines had been to find relevant stuff in a sea of junk. If you don't suppress irrelevant stuff, you get overwhelmed with utter irrelevancies. You know like when porn sites simply copied the dictionary on to every page so that whatever you searched for, the porn site would match.

      Same problem. No one wants naive string matching since it's far too easily gamed.

      So, search engines have the incredibly difficult task of finding more or less what users want out of a sea of bullshit. They aren't going to be perfect, but if you don't suppress anything, you'll get nothing but porn like the bad old days.

      • "Actually scratch that, it's a simpler, bigger problem. Ever since the mid 90s the job of search engines had been to find relevant stuff in a sea of junk" Not really. What was available in 1995 was nothing in light of what exists today. You were grateful for the avenues that you had to "search" anything. Not all of us want to make the internet into your safe space. Way to endorse censorship though
    • The problem with suppressing conspiracy theories, and promoting "authoritative" sources, is that it makes real conspiracies even easier for the authorities to cover up.

      It is a difficult problem. I think the suggestion in the article that top ranking posts be reviewed by a human (while that is no guarantee) is good. Theories that challenge the official narrative (usually false, but occasionally true) are nothing new, predating the Internet age. The main difference is the speed at which such theories can be d

      • by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:06AM (#55330221)

        The American revolution was started by memes like this

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

        If the British Empire had had the ability to censor memes and political speech that Google/FB etc have, they'd have been able to stop that.

        You can see they're very keen to keep people in their walled garden by the way gab.ai got pulled from Google Play for 'promoting hate speech'. Aka 'allowing speech Google can't control'.

        • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:27AM (#55330515)
          And how is Google no longer promoting a video the same as them controlling free speech? You can still find the videos if you search for them. Google is no longer advertising them at the top of their list. If they blocked them, then you might have a point .
          • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @08:42AM (#55330843)

            And how is Google no longer promoting a video the same as them controlling free speech? You can still find the videos if you search for them. Google is no longer advertising them at the top of their list. If they blocked them, then you might have a point .

            Here on Slashdot, we get into the same thing here when they claim that mod points are censorship.

            And who wants to be interrupted by notifications about kooky end of the world/NASA moon landing hoax/perpetual motion/heat your house with 1 tea candle and a flowerpot/ bullshit except other kooks?

            This is just an attempt to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons effect, where the lowest and least destroy the commons.

            • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

              Here on Slashdot, we get into the same thing here when they claim that mod points are censorship.

              That's not what the word "censorship" means I would say. All posts are visible if you want to see them. If you don't want to see them, that's a preference. It's not censorship.

              And who wants to be interrupted by notifications about kooky end of the world/NASA moon landing hoax/perpetual motion/heat your house with 1 tea candle and a flowerpot/ bullshit except other kooks?

              Yes, people who want to believe in them can still find them. I'm surprised no one has alleged that it must have been a reverse false flag. That Google wants you to believe a conspiracy by promoting, thus you shouldn't believe. Or that Google promoted it then removed it to encourage you believe so you shouldn't believe. "Truly, you ha

              • Here on Slashdot, we get into the same thing here when they claim that mod points are censorship.

                That's not what the word "censorship" means I would say. All posts are visible if you want to see them. If you don't want to see them, that's a preference. It's not censorship.

                We see a lot of this these days, when people have a one way version of free speech, where they will say any old outrageous thing they want, then get much butthurt when people disagree with them.

                Free speech does not mean that only the biggest asshole is allowed to talk, and everyone else is forced to listen. reading slashdot a level 2 and up is the only thing that makes it useable at times. But the people who have the severe psychosexual hangups about anal sex and intercourse with somoene's mother can sti

        • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @11:34AM (#55331483)
          the American revolution was started by wealthy farm owners who didn't want to pay taxes. The folks in charge were by and large in favor of it. Those weren't grass root memes, it was war propaganda.

          Now, you can argue that you still agree with the message and that we're better off now than we would have been under British rule (I woulda like the NHS), but make no mistake, the Revolution was about as grass roots American as the Tea Party [time.com] was 200 years later.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:20AM (#55330253)

      Remember when the idea that the government was spying on everyone, recording all their phone calls, cataloging everything, and going above and beyond the constitution with impunity was just a conspiracy theory?

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:56AM (#55330329)

      And a stopped clock is right even twice a day.

      If I keep making insane claims, at some point in time it's likely that I'll even be right. An easy proof: Think of a number between 1 and 1000. Is it 344? No? Ok, let's try again. Think of a number...

      If we play that game often enough, I will guess it. Ain't that amazing? I knew what your number was!

      • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

        Conspiracy theorists are guessing a number between 1 and 500 trillion. So no, they never get it right before they die, and they don't co-ordinate to make sure they never pick the same number twice.

        Sheesh, what a terrible argument.

        • Your agument against isn't much better.

          Consider that even though the odds of winning a large lottery is something on the odds of 1:127,000,000* yet people still win the big jackpots fairly often.

          So claiming that the odds are against something happening are astronomically against it occurring doesn't mean that it doesn't happen surprisingly often.

          * last probability I remember hearing, it's probably even worse for some, better for others.

    • is that it makes real conspiracies even easier for the authorities to cover up.

      Because Watergate was made public by conspiracy theorists, right?

      • Watergate is heavily overrated. Nixon had so much enemies that it didn't require any courage to go up against him. Proof is that Bob Woodward was part of it. You can't get any more establishment than that.

    • by Reverend Green ( 4973045 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @07:39AM (#55330653)

      Google's soft censorship move does suggest that Google thinks the conspiracy theories may be true. Look throughout history - loony wingnuts don't get censored. Censorship is reserved for political dissidents.

    • Are there any real conspiracies for which the whistle was blown by a non-mainstream outlet and the story was not very quickly picked up by a mainstream news source?

      Honestly curious about this. I can't think of any offhand, but it may be possible.

      • I don't know what 'conspiracies' are really but I think I can make the sweeping statement that most of what the mainstream reports about official enemies(Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Trump, Venezuela , Brazil, and other southern american countries) is always heavily compromised(it's usually plain rubbish), and the best way to find out is alternative sources. It can appear in the mainstream, but in such a low key manner that it passes unnoticed. The joke, or should I say the rule is that you have to rea

    • The problem with policing ideas is that once you start, you will never be able to stop. And once youtube decides to become a podium for just the enlightened elite, rather than everyone, it will lose all value, and become just another controlled medium, like television or the newspapers.

      Of course most of us already predicted this back when the phrase 'fake news' was first heard...

      • Yes, this will inevitably lead to an analogue of the Volkswagen conspiracy.
        It started with a legitimate algorithm to stop the engine from making a loud banging noise at cold start by adding more fuel at cold start only, and it ended in a conspiracy to defraud the testers.
        This will do exactly the same.
        First it seems legitimate to spare people the countless lunatic (as opposed to realistic) conspiracy hypotheses, but soon the filter will grow and will be used for political and other purposes.
        Probably duri
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 )

      I wonder if this algorithm would have labelled Watergate a conspiracy theory, or a story of the CIA helping overthrow the Iranian government in 1953, or Iran Contra, or stories about the CIA forcing local law enforcement to look the other way for cocaine lords who were funding right-wing dictators in South America, or a story about Muslims training in secret to fly planes into the World Trade Center.

      Conspiracy theories are always nutters until some turn out to be true (or at least have a basis in truth). An

    • Not only that, but in the mind of a conspiracy theorist, any attempts to downplay or suppress their theory simply validate it. What was just a kooky idea in a Youtube video becomes "THE CONSPIRACY THAT EVEN YOUTUBE IS TRYING TO HIDE!!!"

      I personally know several people who have been swept up in the recent "9/11 was an inside job" craze (it's 2017 - why the hell is that even still a thing?) and it's impossible to have a rational conversation with them about it... because if you don't completely buy in or tr
    • The weakness is in the use of 'conspiracies'. You can call every 'discrete' (as opposed to open) powerplay a conspiracy and then there are an awful lot of conspiracies, because wherever you look there are powers sneakily scheming and competing to get their way.
      What is clear is that the mainstream messages are now promoted at the expense of the independent/alternative sources. This happens with youtube, google, facebook and will happen with every major player.

      If you look at conspiracies as typically structur

  • This serves an example of people's state of mind. When everything around you is getting progressively worse you start questioning the official media.
    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      I wonder if the killer's motive will be found, but covered up. The govt. probably remembers how much the press about the Oklahoma City bombing caused people to remember/learn about Waco and Ruby Ridge. They're probably none too pleased about the publishing of the Unabomber's manifesto, either.

      • Re: Present (Score:4, Informative)

        by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:04AM (#55330467)
        From what I remember about the Unabomber the government wanted to publish his manifesto so that someone might recognize it to help generate leads. And it worked. Are you remembering it right?
    • Re:Present (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:00AM (#55330341)

      You start questioning the "official" media when what they report don't match your own observation.

      That's basically one of the things that fell the communist states. People eventually saw that what they're told by media and politicians does not reflect what they experience. They heard that the plan was fulfilled and overfulfilled yet you could buy nothing in the stores. They heard that they live in the best of all words and saw that everywhere else the world is better.

      What's keeping our system afloat is that there is no west showing us how we're being bullshitted.

      • by gtall ( 79522 )

        "People eventually saw that what they're told by media and politicians does not reflect what they experience."

        Ever talk to WTC conspiracy "theorist". They will claim all sorts of things cannot be right in the official accounts. Easy example, they claim the fire wasn't hot enough to melt steel. Yes, but the heat need not equal the melting point for the steel fail, it only need get hot enough. Once pointed out, they simply move to something else they do not understand.

        The basic conspiracy "theorist" works on

        • That's the general tactics employed in such scenarios. You can have the same from religious nuts. They'll jump from topic to topic to topic until they finally find one you're not an expert in, then use that to "prove" their claim.

    • Because the professional media is progressing in tandem with how progressively worse everything else is. To think otherwise is to be corralled by them and others. The media these days is horrible. I'd want to hear other views, as always.

  • Unless, of course (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bender Unit 22 ( 216955 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @03:07AM (#55330111) Journal

    Unless, of course it is CNN or any of the old news outlets, having "experts" speculating for hours.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Thats the crux of the problem. Great they're reducing the conspiracy rubbish saturation. But there are also serious credibility issues with mainstream *cough* Rupert Mourdoch owned media on many certain issues.
      • Actually it is just more conspiracy on their part, so your claim that they are just rubblizing other conspiracies is just more conspiracy. All they are doing is using their podium to push their narrative in a way others can't challenge.

        What we want are facts, even if that results in boring news.

        Prior to Edward Snowden all talk about government mass surveillance was conspiracy. Now we know the government used the "you're a conspiracy nut" tactic to delegitimize anyone questioning them.

        The mainstream media

      • Not that all news institutions are equal, but all of them that are funded or owned by large corporations have the corporations interests in mind, not objective and honest reporting - even to the base audience they cater too.
    • by poity ( 465672 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:56AM (#55330327)

      Up next on CNN with Don Lemon: Could a black hole have altered the shooter's brain waves?

  • `Those trending fake videos` shows what interest the receiver has in notifications.
    They are not critically reviewing any news they get, they want to be soothed into a sleep.
    This means that they have no right to dismiss credible evidence.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:06AM (#55330223) Homepage

      The "recommended videos" algorithm on YouTube is terrible; it's not a user's fault what comes up there. You watch a single news clip which mentions Trump in its title, and for the next week you'll be flooded with recommendations from channels with names like "RealTruthNews" and titles like "DONALD TRUMP is a LIZARD who is now ROUNDING UP DISSIDENTS!" Every time I watch something random, if I even want to try to minimize the amount of terrible garbage that shows up on the front page, I have to spend the next 5-10 minutes clicking to block channels. And for some reason it seems to forget the blocks over time, too. It's a bloody awful algorithm.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @03:36AM (#55330167)

    Recall a few months ago, advertisers were pulling ads from Youtube, complaining that their ads were being shown with videos for extremist content, even though this was hardly new. Around the same time, there was much handwringing about Pewdiepie's allegedly racist antics. Also recall that the RIAA recently complained that they're being severely underpaid by Youtube, despite being one of their highest sources of streaming revenue. I can't help but feel there's some coordinated attack against Youtube, particularly against ordinary people's ability to post videos and have them noticed/monetized.

    I suspect that ALL corporations (aside from Google)/trade groups/governments would approve of/look the other way to/assist in such an attack. I can't help but recall the idea that a gradual lessening of online liberty is agreeable to big business as it makes the internet less 'wild west' and more 'safe place to spend money'. Take away the copyright infringement, extremist content, and conspiracy theories, and all that's left on Youtube are funny animal videos, 'how-to's and trailers/music videos officially posted by their creators.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2017 @04:58AM (#55330333)

      IMHO it's more that old media is used to telling people what to think. That's why people get into journalism these days. They abhor that dissenting views can be spread online and that they are losing control over information. So they push for censorship.

      Google is perfectly happy to censor its products to push the approved narrative. They're on the same political side as those media companies. The only conflict is a difference in opinion how radical they should be.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:02AM (#55330345)

      >Take away the copyright infringement, extremist content, and conspiracy theories, and all that's left on Youtube are funny animal videos, 'how-to's and trailers/music videos officially posted by their creators.

      Spoken like someone who doesn't use youtube for anything not mentioned here. Gaming videos, light entertainment, art (film, tv, book, etc) analysis/criticism/etc, video art, documentaries, and the list goes on. The entire thing about search engines is that the stated goal has always been to filter out BS that pretends to be legitimate. In the 90s that was porn, gambling, and browser exploits that pretended to be real content. Now the bullshit has gotten smarter, so the search needs to adapt.

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:05AM (#55330355)

      It's not even extremist content anymore. It's pretty much any content that could remotely be considered "offensive" by anyone. No matter what or who, if anyone could have a huwt widdle feeling by looking at your video, you're demonetized.

      • People will be forced to return to the original internet ethos of being an asshole just for fun!
  • I don't know how they rank results right now but I do know that it really sucks particularly for topics like news.

    I assume they rank based on number of subscribers, thumbs up/down, keywords, related video clicks etc. and for the most part perhaps that's fine. But for news and notable events it is a terrible way to rank results. Search on "Sandy Hook" for example and look at all the nutbar results that appear close to the top.

    I realise curating everything is unlikely but YouTube / Google can certainly we

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:50AM (#55330431)

    The K12 system in the US teaches kids to pass tests needed to graduate. They donâ(TM)t teach critical thinking and discernment. Free speech relies on a public capable of thinking critically to discern between a bullshit theory and an alternative explanation backed by evidence.

  • by ratpick ( 649064 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @05:58AM (#55330457)
    Do we really want tech companies deciding what material is proscribed? How is that better than government censorship? So called fake news is unavoidable and inseparable from freedom of speech and press. In a free country, people are free to be gullible and stupid. Any effort to actually fix the problem of "fake news" would focus on educating people and promoting critical thinking, but that would also mean not blindly swallowing propaganda and ideology from media, liberals, conservatives, et al, and so is unlikely to gain any traction.
  • by Roger Wilcox ( 776904 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:29AM (#55330523)

    "Public outcry?" More like "mainstream media narrative." Way to tip your hand there Mr. Author.

    The mainstream narrative (not public outcry) here has been for censorship/alteration of Internet algorithms to prefer mainstream sources.

    This seems an undesirable development to any but those mainstream sources themselves. (from big media's point of view:) "Alright Internet... we acknowledge that you have the people's eyeballs now. Let us use what thrall we still have over the people to convince them that we should be the only ones they can trust online."

    Worse, the news these mainstream companies produce is largely "fake" too, with headlines ever-more tabloid-like, begging for views like clickbait links. Plus, they put a blatant political slant on everything. Hearst famously claimed "I make the news," and he was right. He had editorial sway over what people across the nation would discuss that day, based on what he decided to print.

    This whole thing is utter rubbish--a dying mainstream media grasping for relevancy. I say let them die.

  • wrong promotion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @06:37AM (#55330543) Homepage Journal

    20 years ago, that might have been a good choice. These days, not so much.

    Yes, the conspiracy theories around that shooting are probably out of control. I checked about five videos of it, 2 handy videos from the grounds, 1 short news blurb and 2 conspiracy videos and boy do these guys need to take less of whatever drugs they are taking.

    But (and that's a big butt, in the words of Ben Goldacre) the mainstream media is not exactly an impartial, reliable and thorough reporter of news anymore. Too many real journalists have been cut in the name of profits, too much funding diverted from investigation and background checking, too much power given to click counts and advertiser demands.

    I won't trust the mainstream media on anything more deep than the basic facts. Too many stories where I know the backgrounds have been reported incorrectly, or shortened in simplified so much that they are barely recognizable. Too much clear bias has been uncovered by media studies. Too much press releases and press conference statements are parrot-like repeated instead of properly checked before reporting.

    Putting less weight on conspiracy theories - good. But it's a step too little. The balance should be tilted against all sensationalist and click-bait reporting, including that of mainstream media. Balance should be up on reporting that includes background information, fact-checking and independent investigations. But hey, that would require some actual human judgement and is hard to put into a couple lines of code.

  • The only reason conspiracy theories exist is because no plausible story exists to answer all the questions. People don't understand why these things happen and the government typically isn't all too clear about their prevention, response and subsequent investigation.

    If the government were fully transparent, it would quell the conspiracy theories. In this case, they should be transparent as to the reason that individual could buy and bring up 400lb of gear, break the window on a high riser and disable the se

    • The only reason conspiracy theories exist is because no plausible story exists to answer all the questions.

      This is obviously false. Everything about the moon landing is extremely well understood and well documented: the technology, the physics, the fact that it was broadcast live, and samples were brought back, etc. And yet a cottage-industry of conspiracies has grown up around it because people are too dumb to understand the truth or because they do not want to believe the truth.

      I don't know anything about you, or which category you fall under, but the questions you are "just asking" (in conspiracy parlance) a

  • This is just wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @07:30AM (#55330633)

    Manipulation of this sort is wrong. I'm not into conspiracies but I know this manipulation is just wrong.

    If they can do it they will do it to anything that they don't like. What they don't like is irrelevant.

    It is no longer youtube when you don't choose.

  • Capitalizing in events of this nature to implement ways to control what people see or think. To claim that theories that doesn't come from mainstream media are "conspiracy theories" that should not be believed.

  • Who says.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MoarSauce123 ( 3641185 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @08:23AM (#55330791)
    ....that established news outlets are reliable sources? Just look at Trump's propaganda channel Fox News and rest assured to be served up at least heavily biased stories if not entirely fake news.
  • A Real Conspiracy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @08:35AM (#55330817)
    Here we have another sick man killing a bunch of people. There is no understanding him as at the time he did what he did it probably made sense to him although it was idiotic in nature. To understand this guy you would almost have to be him. So where is the real conspiracy? The lack of health care in the US for the mentally ill is abysmal. Decade after decade reasonable funding for mental health simply never happens and the consequences sometimes are the horror stories we all see on the news. When will the US properly fund care for the mentally ill? And it gets worse. there are always debates over the sanity of this type of criminal. Well, here is a news flash. If you have an urge to start shooting people you are insane. Normal people should never feel a desire to go out and shoot strangers. the same is true for sex offenders. The creep that molests a baby simply can not be sane. Sane people do not want to sexually harm babies. So we can spend billions debating whether each bad actor should be treated as ill rather than as a criminal and the system keeps rolling along with a huge path of the dead and wounded in its wake. It is so simple. A person's desires define their degree of sanity. To anyone out there that is having strong urges to harm others simply get to a hospital and demand that you get help.
  • .... there is no grassy knoll in Las Vegas?

  • >>> reviewed by actual humans. .. Max Headroom!

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