You probably already knew this: YouTube is the second most visited website on the internet. In obvious first place is Google.com which also happens to be the parent/sister company of the world’s biggest video streaming site. YouTube has over 800 million videos (and growing) and gets over 17 billion visits per month (source), so saying they make a lot of money on that website off your eyeballs is putting it very mildly. The secret sauce, of course, is the algorithm that keeping must-see videos constantly into your viewing experience, and because it’s Google-powered, you can bet those engineers know exactly how build a data-driven, personalized algorithm that knows exactly what you want to see. Or does it?
One Algorithm to rule them all?
Based on the platform’s success and profitability it’s pretty clear that this algorithm is doing something right, but there is still plenty of criticism and scrutiny on YouTube’s content selection, especially in light of continuing misinformation problems plaguing all social media platforms. If you are a user of YouTube (statistically likely!) you are probably already familiar with the various tools you can use to supposedly tailor YouTube’s algorithm to only provide content aligned with your interests. There are even buttons to dislike, remove from recommendations, or report as misinformation, but according to research done by Mozilla Foundation (full disclosure: a non-profit research and advocacy organization that is funded by Firefox money and search engine royalties from Google, etc.), these buttons are essentially ineffective. My takeaway? YouTube is using the age-old marketing trick in offering the illusion of control, while still driving traffic to the videos and trends that make them the most money. The article is lengthy, but Mozilla helpfully provides an infographic summary that is a bit easier to digest and leads to the true reason they published these findings. In the end, Mozilla is an activist organization attempting to drill some transparency into the biggest content platforms. The only way this is going to happen is if enough people step up and ask for change. You don’t have to stop using YouTube, but recognizing their placebo controls might give you better insight into why true control over your feed feels elusive.
Image by Pablo Jimeno from Pixabay