YouTube Algorithm – Savvy Content Creators’ Gold Mine Manipulation

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Savvy content creators can see the effects of the YouTube recommendation algorithm. They rush to create similar content which pushes the algorithm to recommend even more of the same content. Next minute… trending makes YouTube a fortune in advertising, savvy content creators share in the profits, and the minds of the public are warped at expense.

We have all heard about the very complex nature of technology and algorithms. We are all made aware our online service providers invest heavily to refine their algorithms even if those algorithms are having negative effects. Yet, we still use these online services and promote their content to our friends and family.

YouTube is no different and is somewhat seen as a big player in algorithmic developments online. The company is owned by Google, the world largest search engine provider and quite possibly, the largest data harvesters of our time. There has been concerns about how algorithms recommend content to its users for a very long time.

Dating back to 2010-2012, engineers working on search and recommendation algorithms at the time tried to let their power-global company employers know the risks. Certain projects were started to try promote diversity in content recommendations. However, those projects resulted in less watch time (the primary key variable for the YouTube algorithm), and so they were scrapped. Some engineers attempted to keep working on much fairer and safe adaptations of the algorithms. Unfortunately, they were let go by their global powerhouse employer on grounds of unsatisfactory work levels (ironic).

Clearly, YouTube is the main focus on this essay but it is very important to recognise, most of the online services we use on a daily basis (most embedded into our very operating systems, and mobile applications), contain learning algorithms. These algorithms are purely designed to learn as much data points about a person, and then create a personalised portfolio of recommendations (with YouTube, it is all about retaining your focus and having you watch endless amounts of content to make as much advertising money as possible).

Shopping is an important consideration when reviewing algorithms. We all shop online and with the change in society and business operations, lots of brick and mortar stores are slowly moving online. With Amazon, Facebook, Google, eBay, Topshop and more, algorithms are implemented to have you feel a personalised service is being offered. However, those same algorithms can be used to manipulate the items you see, manipulate the sellers you buy from (Amazon and Google are very guilty of this tactic), and also manipulate the price you pay (check in the morning, go buy in the evening and prices go up or place in your shopping basket but see a basket shopping cart price hike). These are well known and documented tactics used by large and small corporations online.

Back to YouTube now we have briefly considered this issue is not specifically a video streaming platform issue…

We have also watched YouTube videos, have had our friends share links to videos, or recommend content to us right? Sure enough, most would clearly answer yes to this question. Now, let us consider this scenario for a moment…

You go on YouTube, you search for a topic based around the solar system. Great! You are sat their with your child wanting to learn more together for personal and academic reasons. You are initially presented with videos surround the planets, our solar system, and more. Good stuff. You then see a recommendation to look at a video titled, ‘10 Things You Did Not Know About Space’. We have a look because hey, that’s why we are on YouTube… we want to learn more about space and educate ourselves and our children (it’s great to learn together and will prove much safer too).

OK! We clicked the bait and watched this video. A quick refresh on our list of videos happens and we are recommended similar videos. Titles such as, ‘Things You Would Not Believe About Space’, ‘The Hidden Secrets Of Space’, and ‘What They Don’t Want You To Know About Space’. Soon, you are bombarded with recommended videos which are quickly gaining traction (also known as trending). Next minute, yourself and your child are sat their hours later still watching YouTube videos. However, these videos are now titled, ‘The Earth Is Really Flat’, ‘Complete Documentary Fact Checked Flat Earth’, ‘Aliens Hiding In The Sea – Proof Verified’.

We instantly can see the harm that could be caused by such recommendation algorithms. However, the more views and watch time a type of content generates, the more the algorithm will promote this type of content. Remember, the sole purpose of the algorithm is to keep your eyes focused on the content and keep you engaging with YouTube. The more you engage, the more money YouTube (Google) makes.

What does this have to do with Savvy Content Creators?

Here is my issue with the way the algorithm recommends videos and the savvy content creators jump on trending topics.

A topic starts to trend on YouTube whether this topic is fact checked, healthy or unhealthy for us. Many YouTubers start creating their own content based on the same topics because they know, if the topic goes viral, they stand to make much more money than other content at the same time. YouTubers then start battling out similar content, mixing and distorting facts. Why do I say this? The facts are indeed, NOT FACTS. The content creators watched the videos themselves and start to regurgitate this content. They rush to attain the most views, likes, comments, and subscriptions. Have you watched a YouTube video recently that actually did not ask you to Like, Comment, Subscribe, and don’t forget that notification bell? I cringe when I hear those words. What I actually hear is, ‘Please give me your time so I can make money from your content selections, personalised recommendations and mass tracking to manipulate your decisions’. Oh, and don’t forget about the merchandise… which is generally third-party supplied at extortionate prices for something you could by online elsewhere (customised printing) for much less.

In my opinion, the YouTube algorithm is actually passing the power of content recommendations to Savvy Content Creators. These savvy creators can quickly make a topic trend purely to gain eyes on the screen which then converts into paid advertising for themselves and YouTube.

Savvy Content Creators can manipulate the YouTube algorithm and make money off harmful content trends.

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The YouTube algorithm is actually passing the power of content recommendations to Savvy Content Creators.

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How can we fix this issue?

These large and small companies need to stop and think about the impact their profit first algorithmic approaches are having on the wider global community. They should take responsibility for editing and filtering content (which they actively have done for years but won’t legally admit it because of the ramifications it will place on their profit making practices). Such sites as YouTube, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and more (including all the social networks) are indeed publishers of online content. As such, they should be treated and regulated in the same manner any other publisher would. At the moment, the Savvy Content Creators are able to manipulate trending topics to force the algorithms to promote the same type of content. However, should the Savvy Content Creators have the ability to twist the educational understanding of topics for the mere pennies YouTube pays them in comparison to its own profits on advertising revenue?

YouTube have started to remove advertising from certain content these savvy creators upload. However, this only stops them gaining advertising revenue directly from YouTube or Google. It does not stop them using product placements, getting sponsorship advertisements, and promoting their own crappy merchandise (which is a complete rip off so don’t buy it for goodness sake… YES… I AM LOOKING AT YOU LINUS TECH TIPS).

I for one, have removed all YouTube applications on all my devices. I recognise the damage being caused by such algorithms and refuse to allow myself to be subjected to the aftermath. I now have friends whom question common logic, common science, even questioning the shape of certain objects. The debates are no longer healthy but confrontational because the algorithms are giving birth to sceptics in just about every single fact checked topic in existence.

Further Reading…

Popken, B,. 2018. As algorithms take over, YouTube’s recommendations highlight a human problem [WWW Document], NBC News. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/algorithms-take-over-youtube-s-recommendations-highlight-human-problem-n867596 (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Chaslot, G,. 2018. How Algorithms Can Learn to Discredit “the Media” [WWW Document], Medium – Guillaume Chaslot. Available at: https://medium.com/@guillaumechaslot/how-algorithms-can-learn-to-discredit-the-media-d1360157c4fa (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Chodosh, S,. 2018. Courts use algorithms to help determine sentencing, but random people get the same results [WWW Document], Popular Science. Available at: https://www.popsci.com/recidivism-algorithm-random-bias/#page-2 (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Wong, J.C,. 2018. Facebook overhauls News Feed in favor of ‘meaningful social interactions’ [WWW Document], The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/11/facebook-news-feed-algorithm-overhaul-mark-zuckerberg (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Berlatsky, N,. 2018. Google search algorithms are not impartial. They can be biased, just like their designers [WWW Document], NBC News. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/google-search-algorithms-are-not-impartial-they-are-biased-just-ncna849886 (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Lewis, P & McCormick, E,. 2018. How an ex-YouTube insider investigated its secret algorithm. [WWW Document], The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/02/youtube-algorithm-election-clinton-trump-guillaume-chaslot (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Kaiser, J & Rauchfleisch, A,. 2018. Unite the Right? How YouTube’s Recommendation Algorithm Connects The U.S. Far-Right [WWW Document], Medium – Media Manipulation. Available at: https://medium.com/@MediaManipulation/unite-the-right-how-youtubes-recommendation-algorithm-connects-the-u-s-far-right-9f1387ccfabd (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Hammett, E,. 2019. The ethics of algorithms and the risks of getting it wrong [WWW Document], Marketing Week. Available at: https://www.marketingweek.com/ethics-of-algorithms/ (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Eduonix,. 2017. 5 Algorithms Every App Developer Should Know and Understand [WWW Document], Eduonix Blog. Available at: https://blog.eduonix.com/marketing/5-algorithms-every-app-developer-know-understand/ (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Mitchell, S & Sussman, S,. 2019. How Amazon Rigs Its Shopping Algorithm [WWW Document], ProMarket Publication. Available at: https://promarket.org/2019/11/06/how-amazon-rigs-its-shopping-algorithm/ (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Singh, S,. 2015. How algorithms will drive the growth of e-commerce in the future [WWW Document], Indian Economic Times – Technology. Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/how-algorithms-will-drive-the-growth-of-e-commerce-in-the-future/articleshow/45801937.cms (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Mclean, G,. 2019. Online shopping algorithms are colluding to keep prices high [WWW Document], Tech Explore. Available at: https://techxplore.com/news/2019-02-online-algorithms-colluding-prices-high.html (Accessed on 20.01.21).

Gibbs, B & Harrison, N,. 2019. How Retail Changes When Algorithms Curate Everything We Buy [WWW Document], Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-retail-changes-when-algorithms-curate-everything-we-buy (Accessed on 20.01.21).

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