YouTube, We Have a Problem

June 28, 2021

Above, the Right Wing Watch organization provides the service of shining a light on the dangerous and growing disinformation fringe of the far right, that I think, in light of January 6, we can now all agree is no joke – and is part of the apparatus that is seeking an end to democracy in the US and globally.

Napoleon said always assume stupidity first, but this does feel targeted.

Raw Story:

The Google-run site YouTube has destroyed the one of the greatest repositories of right-wing extremism online by eliminating the channel for Right Wing Watch.

The group announced on Twitter Monday that after years of work exposing “bigoted views and dangerous conspiracy theories,” their collection has been deleted.

Then a little later

Daily Beast:

After left-wing media watchdog Right Wing Watch had been informed that its channel had been permanently suspended from YouTube on Monday morning, the online video platform reversed course hours later and reinstated the channel.

“Right Wing Watch’s YouTube channel was mistakenly suspended, but upon further review, has now been reinstated,” a YouTube spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Monday afternoon. The social-media site also suggested that the issue was a mistake due to high volume of content and that they attempted to move quickly to undo the ban.

In April, my Yale Climate Connections video was put in YouTube jail. The topic was specifically to identify the common roots of climate denial and right wing extreme disinformation.
Within minutes of the upload, the vid tripped some kind of robotic algorhythm, and no one could view it without certifying they were 21 years old and confirming their identity- at least one commenter said they had to upload photo ID.
It’s clear that something is critically amiss with Big Tech’s supposed attempt to deal with extremism and disinformation online – the purported safety net is killing our journalistic immune system that should rightly be exposing bad actors.

Meanwhile, denial of science and fact continue to be a staple of too much social media.

Guardian July 25, 2019:

The majority of YouTube videos about the climate crisis oppose the scientific consensus and “hijack” technical terms to make them appear credible, a new study has found. Researchers have warned that users searching the video site to learn about climate science may be exposed to content that goes against mainstream scientific belief.

Examples of items that showed up on the first page of a YouTube search on “Climate Change”.

Guardian again:

Dr Joachim Allgaier of RWTH Aachen University in Germany analysed 200 YouTube videos to see if they adhered to or challenged the scientific consensus. To do so, he chose 10 search terms:

  • Chemtrails
  • Climate
  • Climate change
  • Climate engineering
  • Climate hacking
  • Climate manipulation
  • Climate modification
  • Climate science
  • Geoengineering
  • Global warming

The videos were then assessed to judge how closely they adhered to the scientific consensus, as represented by the findings of reports by UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2013 onwards.

These concluded that humans have been the “dominant cause” of global warming since the 1950s. However, Allgaier found that the message of 120 of the top 200 search results went against this view.

Allgaier noted, however, that although chemtrails videos received a lot of views, it does not mean the people watching them believed what they were told.

He said it was important to examine the algorithms that decide which videos to show people, but did not suggest YouTube should remove climate denial material.

“Effectively, this would be censorship, and YouTube says they are against censorship,” Allgaier said. “Perhaps they could change their algorithms to prioritise factual information, especially for health and medicine.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our community guidelines.

“Over the last year we’ve worked to better surface credible news sourcesacross our site for people searching for news-related topics, begun reducing recommendations of borderline content and videos that could misinform users in harmful ways, and introduced information panels to help give users more sources where they can fact-check information for themselves.”

23 Responses to “YouTube, We Have a Problem”

  1. jimbills Says:

    I don’t know what is going on with your or RWW specifically – but I’m guessing the social media companies are relying on coding over human moderation in order to appear unbiased.

    The real problem with social media is that by its design it rewards social confirmation over more objective truths. We already have it hardwired into us to seek out the approval of others – it’s an innate desire. Social media, with its likes and shares, creates informational bubbles where the popular always rises above the true when the truth threatens the popular consensus of that bubble.

    If climate change science falls out of favor in a certain segment of the population, as it has in the U.S. heartland, then the bubble of that heartland will reflect that in their social media use. Any coding to the system to combat it cannot beat it, because the system itself is powered by community sharing. If their consensus is that climate change is fake, or that Trump was cheated, then they are going to reward and propagate items that reflect that, and punish those that refute it.

    When large groups of people then get the majority of their news and information from social media, as is happening now, this creates enormous problems for a democratic society.

    Vox had an interview a few days ago with a scientist that wants to make the study of this problem a priority:

  2. ubrew12 Says:

    I’ve been having a similar problem. Facebook has been telling me that various posts I’ve made recommending climate action have been ‘hidden’ so that only I can see them. The problem? These posts are from so long ago, like seven years ago, that I barely remember making them. In a couple cases, I’ve recognized certain links that I subsequently felt I should save for future use, so I guess I should thank the Facebook robots for that, at least.

    To a human being, what Facebook is telling me is that climate action is not worth a personal opinion, not even on my ‘own’ Facebook page. So what Facebook is actually telling me is that I’m not a human being. Not in their ‘Private Idaho’, anyway.

  3. indy222 Says:

    Thanks Jbill – it’s another side of the core human dilemma and why I remain so deeply pessimistic. For ANY top predator that evolves to become too powerful for its own good, immune from lesser predators (well, except the bugs that will feast on its carcass after justice is served), the trajectory is “overshoot and crash”.

    Too smart, but not smart enough to over-rule our own desire to repress knowledge that goes against our dopamine-driven urges. Look at the Republicans to see what it looks like for early arrivers at their grim end-state. Knowledge like: the edge of the Petri dish is near. And in exponential growth of even 2% per year, that edge is just a few years off. Imagine every building, every person, every agriculture field, every city, every toxic waste dump we have – multiplied by 2 and pushed onto the same finite land of Earth. That’s what 2% growth gives you in just 31 years. Clearly we won’t make it that far. 90% of all arable land is already in use, seafood and even insects are in steep decline everywhere.

    Remember the eco-friendly trend to eat grasshoppers? WHAT grasshoppers? I hardly seen a bug on my windshield all year, and I drive through prime agricultural land in California frequently.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      While the consumption levels of the very rich are growing quickly, maybe exponentially, population levels aren’t. Growth rates have been falling since the 1960s, and population itself is expected to level off by 2050. Some organizations are still projecting growth beyond that in Africa but they need to get the dim bulb in that projector fixed; that’s the place that will soon suffer the worst effects of climate catastrophe, and population is likely to decline there the fastest.

      • redskylite Says:

        “Fertility is falling, people are aging, and by the end of the century humans will be shrinking in number on almost every country on Earth, according to a recent study published in the journal Lancet. Far from an overpopulation crisis, demographers are asking where the next generations of young people will come from.”

        • jimbills Says:

          The real question on growth is total resource use and its environmental impacts:

          On overpopulation specifically, in highly developed countries, having children becomes very expensive, and the birth rate falls. Two trends ‘may’ counter this in the future: falling mortality rates due to medical technology, and governmental incentives to increase the birth rate (as it’s very bad for a modern economy to have a falling population size). Your article link goes into this. I personally think it’s early to say exactly how population will play out in the future, and with potential environmental disasters, it becomes even more hazy.

          But for the present and the foreseeable future, the real question is overall human impact on the environment – and that is only increasing rapidly. The same modern economies that reduce the birth rate also increase the overall material impact.

          • J4Zonian Says:

            The question is not about total human impact. Since the poorest half of humans cause only 10% of the GHGs and the poorest 80% cause only about 20%, and the rich control not only their own emissions but everyone else’s…

            it’s entirely about reining in the power of the rich.

            It’s quite clear what’s going to happen to population; it’s going to crater starting by 2050. The rich have caused this; the poor will pay, by dying by the billions—the most massive, traumatic event in history.

            We may still be able to reduce the severity of it, though we can’t stop it. Since the rich are obviously going to hang onto their mental illness-driven actions until will past the point at which civilization is destroyed, only a massive, immediate, global peaceful revolution has any chance of avoiding this calamity.

          • indy222 Says:

            People born, are “forward costed”. Their cost and impact on the environment is all in the future. So lowering birth rates now isn’t going to help much in keeping us from going past the tipping points that should be your worst fears.

  4. grindupbaker Says:

    When I respond in GooglesTubes comments to a “Nick Schroeder” pointing out that his/her/its/them rubbish about the “greenhouse effect” in Earth’s troposphere is moronic ignorant drivel my comment is deleted by the GooglesTubes. I have no curse words or threats, or deprecations of any groups or anybody at all, only the pointing out correctly that the “Nick Schroeder” is a mind-bogglingly ignorant idiot. I don’t know the triggers but there’s no doubt that GooglesTubes has made a conscious decision to support the junk-science drivel of the wealth organizations denying the patently-obvious CO2-driven warming that’s happening.

    • grindupbaker Says:

      Actually, here’s the comment GooglesTubes deletes:
      “Nick Schroeder “The Green House Gases require a source of “extra” energy to “trap”/absorb/delay/intercept/whatevah”. Total, complete and utter bull shit from you as per usual. Mind-bogglingly stupid and ignorant of the physics. Don’t recall coming across anybody else quite as consistently imbecilic as you. There should be some sort of valuable prize for you for that consistency of stupidity that you have. A plastic coffee mug or some such.”
      OK I suppose “shit” is a curse word for you not-British who haven’t been road cyclists either.

  5. indy222 Says:

    While the poorest have the least GHG impact, their strong desires, aided by the Progressives, is to IMPACT the environment much harder. They want that American lifestye. Envy runs the world, unfortunately. It certainly runs advertising – because it works. So don’t be complacent about the poor fraction – their impacts grow the fastest. The rich, by contrast, mostly pour their “income” into more asset price inflation. That has a lower impact/$ on the environment.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      The rich may have a smaller impact per dollar, though I doubt it. But they have a huge impact per person, especially since as I said, the rich control pretty much everything that happens in civilization.

      For example, poor farmers have essentially a net zero or negative ghg effect until they’re forced off the land by agro-chemical and development corporations and the governments they corrupt, then they have a tiny effect.

      Hardly anyone wants to “impact the world harder”. When they do, as with coal rollers, it’s a sign of either individual or collective mental disturbance, usually both. It’s a form of under development or pathological immaturity. The things people want can be provided with clean safe renewable energy, small-scale, low-meat organic permaculture, regenerative forestry, and closed-loop, biomimicing, ecological industry that follows the precautionary principle. That’s what the Green Climate Fund and other aid programs are supposed to be for but the GCF is horribly under-pledged (by several orders of magnitudes) and even more underpaid, and most aid is for the benefit of the “givers” rather than the recipients. Reducing the wealth and impact of the rich and improving the livess of everyone while we renewablize etc. will reduce total human impact while it gives us our only chance of survival.

    • redskylite Says:

      The poorest in the world do not care a tad about the American Lifestyle, they want regular food and water, shelter and the other necessities of life.

      “UN says 400,000 are approaching starvation in Madagascar amid back-to-back droughts”

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        That may be true of the poorest, but the rest of the world is faced with movies and videos and billboards that depict the comforts of a high-consumption lifestyle.

  6. Keith McClary Says:

    5 tips for reporting on unprecedented weather without mentioning climate change

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      That article was full of handy tips for not only avoiding mentioning climate change, but any unpleasant fact that upsets your bosses!

    • J4Zonian Says:

      Satire aside, mentioning climate-determined weather without correctly attributing it to climate catastrophe is criminally irresponsible. I keep reading that corporate media coverage of the most dire and urgent crisis in history is virtually nonexistent, having—incredibly—gone down in the last few years. Insistence by reporters, who are almost always more progressive than media owners, education of owners, strikes, and alternative, reporter-owned media like the Intercept, Canary, David Roberts’ Volts, etc. are ways to move this forward.

  7. redskylite Says:

    Youtube has only been in existence for a mere sixteen years and obviously the moderation mechanisms (human and/or programmed) have not matured yet and have a lot to be desired. Personally I think life was a lot simpler without youtube, twitter, Facebook and social media in general, although it does make communication of ideas a lot quicker/simpler. The international scene makes it all the more complex and difficult, with some countries trying to write their own version of history and current affairs and locking decent journalists/reporters up in jail (or worse) to silence them.

    It is a fight to get truth out and accepted, to communicate honest facts, and we haven’t done too well up to now, only I see a glimmer of light, but very faint and dim.

    We have so much to lose and we are so poorly balanced, our best hope is the next few generations who have grown up with climate change, social media and the like. Perhaps they can do a better job.

  8. John Oneill Says:

    I was told by Facebook that ‘ Your comment goes against community standards, so only you can see it ‘, for telling somebody that nuclear power reactors do not produce weapons grade plutonium (- by definition, they make reactor grade plutonium.)

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      What kind of email/notice do they send you that tells why they censor something? What’s the level of detail? I mean, did they really tell you it was because you wrote that, or was is some sort of keyword match to “weapons grade plutonium”?

      NB: I never had a Facebook, YouTube or Twitter account, so I don’t know how censors tell the censees.

  9. I have a very strong suspicion that the trigger is automated reports from web crawler ‘bot accounts. Certain well funded groups can activate such methods thus triggering the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube automated response

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