back to article The YouTube crackdown on fake news: Promoting bonkers Florida school shooting conspiracies

YouTube is under fire again for promoting fake news, despite promising repeatedly in recent weeks that it is improving its systems to limit the exposure to false information. On Wednesday, the number-one video on the web giant's "trending" page – where it spotlights the most current or relevant content – was a video claiming …

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  1. LDS Silver badge

    "YouTube responded by "demonetizing" his videos"

    So, still use him to bring people to YouTube... when people will click on other videos Google will still sell ads.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: "YouTube responded by "demonetizing" his videos"

      Doesn't "demonetizing" mean that there are still ads, but Google gets all of the money instead of just most of it?

      (I use an adblocker so I've no idea)

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: "YouTube responded by "demonetizing" his videos"

        Isn't that what they did to the independent record labels?

        Option 1: We pay you the square root of fuck all (even less than the majors get). That means we enable our anti-piracy tools that put ads on pirated material but siphon some cash to you - but of course we keep the lions share of said cash.

        Option 2: We de-monetize your official videos. We also turn off our anti-piracy tools - so you have to track down every individual case of your copyright material being put up. And of course we keep all the ad revenue from said pirated material.

        Ah - good old Google. Don't be Evil.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Popular = Views & Comments.

    Algorithm being what it is, does not understand fake news or humans so it puts those videos to the top of it's list.

    Algorithm wants to make money for daddy google and does not care about anything else and never will.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'm going to add to this. I read a conspiracy theory on Reddit yesterday that some people uploading videos intentionally mispronounce a word to increase the comments and therefore artificially increase the video's popularity. This also fits with my point about comments, if it's fake news more people are going to comment debunking the fake news however when it's shared not everyone is going to see the comments. This I believe is the problem but google don't care because more viewers equals more ad money. The you tube model itself does not allow a fix for this problem short of disabling comments however comments is a metric you use to confirm how many people have watched the full video and consumed all the ads.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Coffee/keyboard

    Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

    It was trending because many people had watched it (or made it appear as such), but what's the problem with that? Just because many people watched it doesn't mean it's suddenly more credible or something. I also think the word "promoting" is a bit over the top, because all Youtube did was showcase the video because it was apparently watched by many people.

    And to be honest I'm getting a bit tired of this "blame the messenger" crap. Sure, I can understand the upset over the video, definitely, but it wasn't Youtube who made it. If anyone is to blame its the poster of said video.

    Although I do agree that Youtube applies some very weird rules at times. I've seen video's which criticized Tesla cars in a constructive way. For example by showcasing how sloppy some of the outer area looks; on the right side a chrome strip runs all the way from front to end in a straight line. On the other side there's a 5cm hiatus between the doors for no apparent reason. That looks sloppy. Note: this video doesn't bash the car, doesn't share criticism but all it does is showcase these oddities. In fact: the uploader is actually really happy with his Tesla. But... no advertisements for them.

    Then there was this Youtube channel where a pair of "parents" (I use the term very loosely) made a career out of "pranking" their children. I think some were around the age of 10. And with pranking I basically mean a performance which I can only describe as borderline child abuse. Bullying, psychological torture. I mean... accusing your kid of having done something (while he didn't) and then keep on yelling and raging until he breaks up crying. Tell me how that isn't child abuse?

    Well, not according to Youtube because they had no problems getting plenty of revenue from advertisements.

    I'm still appalled over that to be perfectly honest. But do I blame Youtube? No, I blame those retards of a parents ("partards") because they started this whole period of abuse. I also 'blame' thousands of people watching this and apparently considering this to be very funny and entertaining. But not the messenger. In fact, eventually Youtube became aware and acted. Fortunately also law enforcement eventually became aware and some children have been removed and taken to their birthright mother.

    You can't blame the messenger for everything that happens.

    1. Cris E

      Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

      Um, this isn't some simpleton common carrier getting caught in the crossfire of quickly evolving news stories. Google is king-making every time they suggest any content to the masses. How many of those views came before it was featured on the Trending list and how many came afterwards? What percentage of the push came from Google? The fact is Trending is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and anything on that list is going to get shot to the moon. For a company that's trying to improve the quality of its recommendations it would appear to be a poor decision to not vet whatever goes on the few lists they do crank out. I have no sympathy for poor little Youtube.

    2. Daggerchild Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

      Are you insinuating that it's hard for a computer to work out what an unacceptable viewpoint is, in a country where kids can buy assault rifles, then mow each other down, repeatedly, causing genuine national news channels to respond by e.g. praising the rifle, and the affected state to respond by promptly voting down the surviving children's call for a rifle ban 71 to 36, then immediately voting that pornography is a health risk?

      This is simply not good enough! The righteous, outraged floggings will continue until the miracles improve! This is America for God's sake!(TM)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

        It is indeed heartwarming to see that although unwilling to take any action to restrict the sale of assault rifles, the "Thoughts and Prayers" of President Trump are with the victims and their families, as, through his inaction he continues his enabling of MAGA*

        * Murdering American Grandchildren Again

        /s

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

          Seriously? Somebody is suggesting that an organisation that makes money from getting a message heard by as many people as possible is just a simple messenger?

          FFS.

          Somebody will be claiming that the Daily Mail and the Guardian are just simple messengers next.

    3. Schultz

      Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

      I agree with the OP. Youtube doesn't claim to perform journalistic quality control but merely provides a platform to share content. If you want trustworthy news, then there are a number of journalistic outlets that work hard at earning your trust by providing well researched news, day in and day out.

      The issue is the illiteracy of the wider population. People choose to believe a YouTube video from a random sourse over serious journalism. This reveals an issue with the education of those believers and not so much about the random source.

      You come to the Register to read news, serious comments and bullshit. The bullshit filter in your head helps to separate the thought-inspiring comments from the jokes. If that filter breaks down, it's you who has a problem and not The Register.

      Educate the people, don't try to censor free speech.

      1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

        Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

        The educational system in the US has very little to nothing to do with "educating the populace." Heaven forbid that we have people that might have a critical thought in their head from time to time. Good little factory workers/wage slaves, perfect. I wish I could put a /sarc at the end. I can't.

        Dr. Thomas Sowell and Dr. Walter E. Williams, both economists, are far better analysts on this topic. Just to toss one more bone on the fire, it serves the interests of Google and Facebook by having pure consumers of their "products."

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

          But yet, if Google is retrospectively removing posts or changing the conditions under which they are shown, how is it that they are still classed as a common carrier and not an editor?

      2. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

        I would love to hear from someone who voted this down. Why on earth?

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

          Why? Because if their AI repeatedly and consistently shows Elsagate stuff to kids or catapults conspiracy theories into prime time then it's crap and not fit for use.

          It would probably be much easier and take far fewer employees to pre-emptively moderate kids content and trending videos (i.e. real human beings have to let videos through) than take them down afterwards when the damage has already been done. But they daren't do it because they don't want to be accused of being a publisher, which they obviously are.

          People need educating, but that takes a generation or two. What do you think society will look like in 50 years time if social networks continue as they are now?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

            "What do you think society will look like in 50 years time if social networks continue as they are now?"

            I really get depressed thinking about it. Fortunately, there is little chance I will be around to suffer it. 25 years time, however.........

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

          Dodgy Geezer,

          I also downvoted you and the OP. Because I'm sick of people making excuses for Google.

          Last year, Google turned over $109.65 billion. Of which about 90% is from advertising.

          They made $16 billion-odd profit.

          If people argued that Google can't be responsible for every site they link to, and everything posted on Youtube - then that would be fine. But to argue that Google aren't responsible for the content they choose to promote is ludicrous. Sure they say that an algorithm did it. But they wrote the fucking algorithm. You may be able to get away with telling journalists and politicians that "it was done by the algorithm, not us, honest!" But that crap doesn't wash here - because we know what an algorithm is.

          Also, I remember when Google told everyone that all their search was done by algorithms, so they couldn't delete specific search results. Only to later admit that they did hand-weight some search results. Their competitors. Oops.

          And I remember when they told the independent record labels that they had a choice with Youtube. Accept a derisory tiny cut of the advertising fee shown on your stuff that gets uploaded, or fuck you, we're turning off the anti-piracy controls that put ads on your stuff and give us most of the cash. That's not behaving like a common carrier. That's behaving like a gangster running a protection racket. Which is what Youtube is, so far as I'm concerned.

          What Google need is a few more regulatory kicks to the bollocks, until they learn to be good citizens.

    4. Paul 195

      Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

      We can blame the messenger because they are not a purely neutral conduit. They have algorithms which promote some videos so that more people see them, hence amplifying their influence. It is Google's choice to hand over the task of promoting these videos to an opaque algorithm they refuse to explain the workings of.

      The rest of us are quite entitled to say "it's your platform, you control what is promoted on it, stop hiding behind the now very stale excuse of 'oh dear, it was the algorithm what dunnit' ". If you can't fix the algorithm, then you are going to have to spend some of your massive profits on human oversight of what it does.

      1. Michael Thibault

        Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

        "We can blame the messenger because they are not a purely neutral conduit."

        Does YoutUbe strictly need to make the Trending page so central to its interface? Could it not bury it even one layer deep, so that it must be sought out, rather than be the landing page or the linked page adjacent the Search field? It's a conscious decision to foreground Trending. The Trending page appeals to the lazy, the sheep, the swallows. Its existence and prominence is a conscious effort to capture attention, thereby traffic, thereby revenue. That should be obvious, uncontentious. To add to the responsibility, the algorithms -- which do now, and probably always will, require human intervention -- are themselves an enticement for YT itself to meddle -- via tweaking --, and to meddle means they are taking responsibility.

        The article closes with:

        "At some point, YouTube has to stop hiding behind its automated algorithm argument and adopt some degree of responsibility for what appears on its platform and the role it plays in highlighting its worst examples."

        At some point, YouTube has to abandon its automated algorithm and free itself entirely of any degree of responsibility for what appears on its platform -- leaving nanny-statism to the state or, by providing users, in the aggregate, with the means to better regulate what they themselves can see on the platform, making responsible users of YoutUbe users themselves.

        FTFY

        The most transparent algorithm is none at all. It has no overhead, and no blow-back is possible because no responsibility is taken -- responsibility is specifically disavowed, and YT becomes a purely neutral conduit.

        Profit!

    5. Hey Nonny Nonny Mouse

      Re: Getting tired of this "blame the messenger" campaign...

      You blame the messenger when their algorithms are being gamed to push propaganda and an agenda based on lies and outright deception.

      If their algorithms didn't allow that to happen then it wouldn't be an issue.

      Is that simple enough to understand?

  4. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Facebook too.

    Short thread listing the same troll / conspiracy / fake news NS all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,..

    https://twitter.com/MicahGrimes/status/966077901127979008

    Gosh it's almost like an organised.. shall we say "campaign"? Yes, "campaign" is exactly the right word.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Robert Mueller is a neo-Mccarthyist

    Which is, of course, the exact behavior that has been repeatedly identified as the result of Russian trolls using fake accounts to promote divisive content. That behavior formed the basis of a recent indictment by special prosecutor Robert Mueller over Russian interference in the US presidential election.

    Yeah, but that premise has actually been debunked by none other than the VP of Facebook.

    The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election. We shared that fact, but very few outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative of Trump and the election.

    https://twitter.com/robjective/status/964680123885613056

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: "that premise has actually been debunked by none other than the VP of Facebook"

      And that is such an authority on such matters.

      On any matter, actually.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "that premise has actually been debunked by none other than the VP of Facebook"

        Well, if facebook are not aware of when Russian trolling reached its peak on facebook, then I'm not sure who else would.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          "if facebook are not aware of"

          They may be aware of many things they prefer not to disclose because it could put them in deeper troubles... and we're speaking of people who would sell their mothers if they see enough profits.

    2. Cris E

      Re: Robert Mueller is a neo-Mccarthyist

      The main goals of the Russian trolls, dividing public opinion and fomenting unrest online, is different from revenue generating ads. The latter only encompasses paid ads, while astroturfing is peer-to-peer and doesn't require any ad buy. Metrics can show priorities, and ignoring the actual damage to focus on the cash says quite a bit about FB execs.

    3. strum Silver badge

      Re: Robert Mueller is a neo-Mccarthyist

      >that premise has actually been debunked by none other than the VP of Facebook.

      For which he quickly apologised.

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Re: Robert Mueller is a neo-Mccarthyist

        "For which he quickly apologised."

        Well, it was a load of corporate spin.

        C.

    4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Robert Mueller is a neo-Mccarthyist

      "The majority of the Russian ad spend happened AFTER the election"

      Yeah, something like 56% after, 44% before.

      Fact-Checking a Facebook Executive’s Comments on Russian Interference

      A Reg reader falling for a SV exec's spin? Oh my days.

      C.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crisis actors really are not beyond the realm of possibility

    After all the American government has form for this kind of thing.

    Operation Northwoods was a proposed false flag operation against the Cuban government that originated within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the United States government in 1962. The proposals called for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other U.S. government operatives to commit acts of terrorism against American civilians and military targets, blaming it on the Cuban government, and using it to justify a war against Cuba. The plans detailed in the document included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Crisis actors really are not beyond the realm of possibility

      So you are willing to believe that the government / Democrats / Soros / Jews / whomever are willing to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on creating these "fake" events.

      But then you also believe that they are re-using "actors" to save a few dollars here and there?

      Can you feel the cognitive dissonance there?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Crisis actors really are not beyond the realm of possibility

        So you are willing to believe that the government / Democrats / Soros / Jews / whomever are willing to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on creating these "fake" events.

        But then you also believe that they are re-using "actors" to save a few dollars here and there?

        I don't believe anything. I was merely pointing out the fact that the American government once plotted false flag events on a scale that would make a school shooting seem trivial.

    2. Daggerchild Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Crisis actors really are not beyond the realm of possibility

      I love it when people try and overextrapolate the historical crimes of other people's predecessors/ancestors. They make all kinds of affronted noises when you pour that goose sauce on their own gander.

      Also, the massively widened focus is misleadingly narrow. You think far too much of your species if you think ONLY the American Government has ever thought about not doing the thing you're saying they didn't actually do.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Operation Northwoods was a proposed"

      If you dig enough in any military archive, you will find the most incredibly stupid ideas.

      US military also proposed cat-controlled bombs, AFAIK, to hit ships, because cats would try to avoid water and thereby aim at the ship. Hope it was a fake, but that some bright military mind thought it is possible.

      Just, you need proof those stupid ideas were ever realized.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: "Operation Northwoods was a proposed"

        You need to look up "Project Pigeon" .

        1. Baldrickk Silver badge

          Re: "Operation Northwoods was a proposed"

          And Project Pigeon worked but electronic guidance systems came along.

          Same with the bat-bomb. That was very effective, gave the world napalm, and only didn't get used because the nuclear bomb came along and the funding was funnelled into that instead.

        2. Swarthy Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: "Operation Northwoods was a proposed"

          Project Pigeon wasn't an entirely stupid idea. It laid the ground work for Skinner boxes, which is how most tap games make their money and how Starva got all that lovely data that they released.

          Wait, it was a horrible idea.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    With automated systems there will always be ways to defeat them and this video shows it. Maybe the uploader bought a load of views and likes for the video to bump it up in the rankings or perhaps he just shared the video to it on some other high traffic website which got it a lot of views. It is not really Googles fault though, as soon as it was flagged it was removed.

  8. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Youtube deserves this flack...

    If this video was just lurking in the Youtube world i would just write off the person who uploaded as a crank but Youtube pushed it onto its trending board.

    They should be moderating anything that is gong to show up on high profile parts of the site, i get that its impractical to moderate every upload manually, but there is no excuse for not moderating the the stuff which is being pushed into the spotlight.

    If they cant do this then they are not paying for the amount of staff needed to maintain their platform in a reputable way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Youtube deserves this flack...

      Speaking as someone who has watch too many videos aimed at toddlers and young children, I agree 100%. They have a special app for kids "YouTube Kids", and the sort of disturbing content is astounding. About 1/2 the videos are glorified ads masquerading as educational videos, there are bizarre video to children's songs, and there is much violent imagery.

      There are even videos which in other contexts would be considered grooming.

      Reporting does nothing, it is like being in an anechoic chamber.

  9. Joe Dietz

    It doesn't really take that much effort

    Years ago some co-workers and I decided to learn a bit about the google and poke a (friendly) stick at a co-worker friend that liked to share the weird search terms that led people to his blog by creating an association between his blog (about 3-D printing) and the movie meme "A dingo ate my baby". Not only did it work, it _still_ works... years later and it some extent its even spread to bing. All in all I think 3 of us pulled this off across a few weeks of 'training' the search engine.

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      Re: It doesn't really take that much effort

      Interesting observation. Does this point to there being no negative feedback in the algorithms? They count clicks, but there's no way to count the "this is totally unrelated", or "this is all lies" reaction of the people who followed the links.

  10. Irongut

    "That would point to an organized effort by a large number of fake user accounts to click on this video, and similar videos promoting the same and related conspiracies"

    How do you know they were fake accounts and not real accounts? Between stupid people who would believe the claims, stupid people who would think it funny and the NRA they could probably create enough clicks to get a video trending and once it's on that page the rest is self-fulfilling.

    1. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Aarrgghh

      Sadly, all too possible.

  11. Winkypop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    And how about those Moon landings, eh?

    Water isn't actually wet.

    Trump is a great POTUS.

    Flares look great.

    The Edsel was a top seller.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And how about those Moon landings, eh?

      I'm waiting for Trump to claim he can "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and then, maybe, people'll recognize he ain't the greatest after all.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Devil

      Re: And how about those Moon landings, eh?

      Winkypop,

      You're wrong! Donald Trump looks AMAZING in flares.

      His loonpants are YUGE - and he's gonna Make Flares Great Again!

  12. PhilipN Silver badge

    Viewer discretion advised

    I and millions of others used to be exposed, starting from early childhood, to fake news every Sunday morning.

    Then I developed what occasionally passes for.a brain which somehow interprets, re-interprets, digests or discards what is transiting the grey matter throughout the day, every day.

    Give it a try.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Viewer discretion advised

      I knew it was fake when I discovered there was more than one 'official source'.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    These days it seems to become a norm to blame everything that does not fit your ideology on “Russian Bots”.

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