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Senator warns about propaganda on YouTube
Source: Levi Sumagaysay

It’s YouTube’s turn in the glare of the spotlight on the prevalence of misinformation online, with the Google-owned video service being blamed for spreading propaganda.

“I’ve been increasingly concerned that the recommendation engine algorithms behind platforms like YouTube are, at best, intrinsically flawed in optimizing for outrageous, salacious and often fraudulent content,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, told the Guardian. “At worst, they can be highly susceptible to gaming and manipulation by bad actors, including foreign intelligence entities.”

siliconbeat logo tech news blogWarner’s warning comes after that news organization’s recent report that showed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was also affected by YouTube videos that spread damaging information, on top of the previously revealed misinformation spread on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, the Guardian published an article about an analysis of about 8,000 YouTube videos. The analysis “suggests the algorithm was six times more likely to recommend videos that was damaging to Clinton than [Donald] Trump, and also tended to amplify wild conspiracy theories about the former secretary of state,” the Guardian said.

Among the most recommended channels in that database of videos was the Alex Jones Channel, of the far-right conspiracy website InfoWars, according to the Guardian.

In response to the Guardian’s article, Google late last week announced it would begin labeling YouTube videos from state-funded broadcasters, such as U.S.-based PBS or Russia’s RT. The latter — Russia’s state news agency, which has 20 video news channels — is among the most-watched news networks on YouTube, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“We know there is more to do here and we’re looking forward to making more announcements in the months ahead,” Google told the Guardian.

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Google is also making changes in other parts of its vast empire, such as its dominant search engine. Early last week, it announced tweaks to the snippets its users see in search results, saying it wants to provide more diverse sources of information.

After the U.S. presidential election, tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have been hit by criticism galore, including by their own investors and former employees. The companies also have been called before lawmakers to testify about how their platforms enabled parties, such as a Russian troll factory called the Internet Research Agency, to buy ads, spread fake news and even get Americans to RSVP for fake, politically divisive events. Congress recently released transcripts of that testimony.

The examination of tech platforms and the spread of misinformation comes amid investigations into the Trump administration’s links to Russia.


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