While YouTube has made efforts to remove extremist content, 9 percent of YouTube users who participated in a national study viewed at least one video from an extremist channel, and 22 percent viewed at least one video from an alternative channel that could serve as a gateway to extremist content, according to a new report from ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).
Additionally, 38 percent of recommendations shown on videos from alternative channels and 29 percent of recommendations shown on videos from extremist channels were to additional videos of the same type. As a result, a large number of users followed at least one recommendation to a video from an alternative channel and others followed at least one recommendation to a video from an extremist channel.
“It is far too easy for individuals interested in extremist content to find what they are looking for on YouTube over and over again” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “Tech platforms including YouTube must take further action to ensure that extremist content is scrubbed from their platforms, and if they do not, then they should be held accountable when their systems, built to engage users, actually amplify dangerous content that leads to violence.”
The new report found that although some high-profile extremist channels were removed by YouTube before and during the study period, white supremacist and other alternative and extremist content remained disturbingly accessible on the platform. In fact, among those who watched at least one video from an alternative or extremist channel, the mean numbers of videos watched were 64.2 (alternative) and 11.5 (extremist) over the course of six months
These results are evidence that remediation efforts made by YouTube were not adequate to stop the platform from frequently recommending more videos from alternative or extremist channels. As a result, many people in the study were not only watching large numbers of videos from alternative or extremist channels, but also were shown recommendations for more such videos when they did so, further increasing exposure to potentially harmful content.
In addition to tracking video viewing habits, the survey found that consumption of extremist or alternative videos was most frequent among people who reported existing bigoted views. Exposure to extremist channels tends to be higher among those who reported having cold feelings against Jews — during the study period, 25 percent of that group watched at least one video from an alternative channel and 21 percent watched at least one video from an extremist channel (compared to 19 percent and 8 percent, respectively, among those with medium or warm feelings).