For several years now, YouTube has been regularly accused of facilitating the dissemination of far-right ideas and of being a vector of radicalization. It is a famous paper from the New York Times that ignited the powder in 2018 before an avalanche of articles and stories examined the phenomenon.
Now it’s the scientists’ turn to take up the subject. A team of academics from the Lausanne Polytechnic accompanied by colleagues from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil has just published a study called ” Studies of radicalization paths on YouTube “. Through the analysis of 330,925 videos broadcast on 349 different channels and more than 72 million comments, the research teams were able to conclude that YouTube could effectively serve as a platform for radicalization.
Comments as evidence
To be more precise, the study explains that internet users who commented on far-right content found themselves quickly consulting and commenting on content that was even more radical than those with which they had started.
To prove it, the scientists classified their catalog of YouTube videos into 4 categories (Media, Alt-Lite, Intellectual Dark Web [IDW] and Alt-Right) and observed that those who start by consulting less radical content ( Alt-Lite and IDW) “constantly migrate from more moderate content to more extreme content” (Alt-Right). The trace of comments left on the various videos is taken as proof.
The populations that consumed “Media” videos, therefore from mainstream channels, were found much less on extremist videos. The study, therefore, concludes that “the theory that more extreme content ‘piggybacks’ on the rise in popularity of IDW and Alt-Lite content” is valid.
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However, by the very admission of the people who conducted this survey, certain weaknesses in the analysis exist. First of all because YouTube did not give them access to their recommendation algorithm, but also because the study does not (necessarily) take into account the personalization of recommendations operated by YouTube according to the profile of the Internet user. But even without personalization, it was possible “to find a way from big media channels to more radical content.”
YouTube alone responsible?
As for whether it was YouTube alone that pushed Internet users to more radical content, difficult to say too. “It’s hard to make strong causal claims such as ‘YouTube is responsible for this,'” said Manoel Horta Ribeiro, a researcher who participated in the study.
But if you can’t prove that YouTube is an active factor in radicalizing minds, according to Manoel Horta Ribeiro, that does not completely clear Google’s video platform, “many of these communities live on YouTube and have a large part of their content on YouTube. This is why YouTube is so deeply associated with this phenomenon, “ explains the researcher.
In recent years, YouTube has wanted to correct the situation by trying to better track violent or hateful content or by making certain videos inaccessible. After a controversy that would have cost the platform a trifle of $ 755 million, the company has learned its lesson.