Over the past few months, I began to notice some strange things going on with the videos YouTube was recommending to me. As someone that would rather watch news commentary from people that openly admit their biases or political slant versus corporate-owned media outlets that don’t disclose their predetermined narratives pushed down onto them by the corporations or billionaires that own them, I found myself being forced towards this very content by YouTube.
Before looking into the empirical data and actively looking at YouTube’s new terms of service, here is an example I started noticing. While watching a commentary video by Tim Pool, a Social Liberal news and opinion commentator, I noticed YouTube recommended Fox News and had Fox News set as the next auto-play video. Tim Pool makes several videos per day, yet rather than suggest his videos, the content I wanted to watch, the algorithm recommended Fox News.
Once auto-play kicked in the Fox News segment, it interestingly enough suggested a 100% recommended tab of Fox News segments.
I began to wonder why they would recommend all Fox News segments yet didn’t recommend a single video by Tim Pool when I watched his video. So, I tried this again with another respected content creator and self-admitted Progressive Liberal David Pakman. Same outcome. It solely recommended either Fox News or in most cases MSNBC or CNN, and once the content auto-played to one of these segments the recommendations solely focused on those news outlets instead of offering me the content I prefer, watch, and actively seek out.
As any true data nerd would do on New Year’s Eve, I needed to figure out why this was happening since the typical goal of an algorithm is to keep you on the platform as long as possible to drive ad revenue through time on site by suggesting content that you’ve previously liked or actively show interest in. Case in point, the Facebook algorithm formerly known as EdgeRank which customizes each person’s feed and timeline to show more posts from people and brands they’ve engaged with rather than displaying content which Facebook wishes to force on you.
Though Tim Pool is likely not a household name, he has been a staple on YouTube for many years as a genuine and credible commentator. To put his viewership into perspective, his videos double the weekly viewership of CNN’s Reliable Sources segment hosted by Brian Stelter. YouTube became the most successful video platform in the world because of its creators like Tim, David, and countless others who are now being pushed aside by an algorithm that favors what YouTube deems to be “authoritative” content rather than focusing on what its users want.
The following research by Mark Ledwich demonstrates where YouTube funnels traffic from its independent creators, in this case of Tim Pool, it appears to overwhelmingly drive viewers away from Tim’s content and toward questionable mainstream news.
Similarly, David Pakman’s chart pushes users overwhelmingly to MSNBC, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert and CNN.
YouTube’s Official Response
Next, I ventured to the YouTube blog for an explanation, and found the following snippet from a larger article:
YouTube to promote “authoritative” – YouTube has announced a $25 million commitment in support of efforts to promote “authoritative” news on the online video platform. “As part of the launch of GNI (Google News Initiative) in March, we announced funding to support the future of news. Today we are committing $25M to a YouTube-specific investment.”
The “Authoritative” content appears to be driving away from their favorite creators, creators that built the platform, to the same authoritative voices that told us Iraq had WMDs, or employ reporters who lied about being shot at in helicopters while covering wars are being forced on viewers who are actively trying to watch content made by independent creators, many of which have a better, more truthful or “authoritative” track record than the sources YouTube is cramming down its users throats. The sad reality is that these “authoritative” sources once upon a time followed a reliable business model of news gathering but has since disintegrated into polarized politics, sadly, a delicious topic for highly competitive outlets to report on.